When the dangerous, draconian "fetal heartbeat" abortion ban passed Georgia's state legislature in April, activists, corporations, and Hollywood legends united to warn the state about the consequences of enacting the ban. But on May 7, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp ignored their warnings and signed the bill anyway.
Kemp signs HB 481 into law on May 7,2019. Photo courtesy Associated Press.
Any and all bans or restrictions on abortion are extreme, but HB 481 is arguably in a class of its own as a remarkable demonstration of ignorance and cruelty. The bill that will soon become law in Georgia bans abortion once embryonic cardiac activity first begins — typically at just six weeks. This is well before most women realize (or can even confirm) they're pregnant, effectively banning abortion after a pregnant woman's period is just two weeks late. But the bill somehow only gets more terrifying: women who violate the law could be subject to life in prison.
HB 481 exposes the anti-abortion movement's dystopic, anti-women endgame.
HB 481 is ironically called the LIFE (Living Infants Fairness and Equality) Act, despite how it would certainly cost Georgia women their lives; states with more restrictions on abortion have disproportionately higher maternal mortality rates. Effectively serving as an all-out abortion ban, HB 481 would be more restrictive than any other anti-abortion law in place anywhere in the United States, and would likely lead to a rise in unsafe, possibly fatal abortions. In this way, HB 481 exposes the anti-abortion movement's dystopic, anti-women endgame.
For all of HB 481 and the anti-abortion movement's warm, gentle rhetoric about protecting "life" and family values, they are motivated by something else entirely: punishing women, criminalizing their bodies, and depriving them of the autonomy and human rights they're due. Georgia's "fetal heartbeat" abortion ban would be oppressive and dangerous enough without the threat of life imprisonment. But incarcerated or not, without access to comprehensive reproductive health care, this law ensures that women are entrapped by the state within their own bodies.
Still, the involvement of the carceral system in Georgia's new law raises the threat to a new level. Women could quite literally be jailed for miscarriage if they cannot disprove there was an attempted abortion or that their actions (for example, drug use) caused the miscarriage. We've already seen this before in two cases in the state of Indiana, and in light of Georgia lawmakers' demonstrated ignorance on the most basic facts about pregnancy, we'll almost certainly see it again once HB 481 takes effect.
Ultimately, anti-abortion lawmakers are more determined to punish women than they are determined to prevent abortions. The same week Gov. Kemp signed the fetal heartbeat ban into law, anti-abortion lawmakers in Ohio introduced a bill that, on top of prohibiting insurance coverage of abortion, would also effectively ban most forms of birth control. That's because the misguided, anti-science bill equates any "birth control that could act to stop a fertilized egg from implanting to the uterus" with abortion. Considering the reality that wider access to birth control is far more effective in lowering abortion rates than restricting abortion access, which seldom impacts abortion rates at all, the anti-abortion movement's real goals couldn't be clearer.
Georgia's HB 481 provides exceptions for pregnancies caused by incest and rape. Yet, this should only raise another question: how would any woman seeking abortion care safely prove she was raped in a state that doesn't believe women have the right to control their bodies in the first place? And in either case, the abortion "rape exception" has never mitigated the cruelty of anti-abortion legislation. Access to reproductive health care should always be unconditional.
In the context of today's judicial landscape, the heartbeat abortion ban is especially concerning. With Brett Kavanaugh solidifying the Supreme Court's conservative majority, President Trump's anti-abortion judicial nominees being sworn in at disturbing rates, and state legislatures pumping out their own iterations of the "fetal heartbeat" abortion ban each week, we can see clearly the direction the anti-abortion movement is heading. If a legal challenge to the heartbeat ban made it to the Supreme Court, Roe v. Wade, the precedent that made abortion legal in 1973, could be dismantled or reversed altogether.
Women and activists have been warning that we are headed toward a future of shuttered abortion access and the criminalization of women's bodies for years. HB 481 is all the evidence we need that this future has already arrived.