Georgia has signed into law a bill that would ban abortions after the point that a heartbeat can be detected.
Currently, women in the state can get abortions until 20 weeks of pregnancy. This will change in January 2020, when the law comes into force and shifts that to about 6-7 weeks for most pregnancies, before many women even realize they are pregnant.
Georgia is the third state to enact a “fetal heartbeat bill” this year, joining North Dakota and Iowa in attempts by conservatives to overturn Roe v. Wade.
“[The bill] is very simple but also very powerful: a declaration that all life has value, that all life matters, and that all life is worthy of protection,” Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp said on Tuesday morning before signing the legislation, CNN reports.
“I realize that some may challenge it in a court of law. But our job is to do what is right, not what is easy. We are called to be strong and courageous, and we will not back down. We will always continue to fight for life.”
The bill, which Kemp says would be a fight for life, could put women’s lives at risk or even subject women who get illegal abortions to the death penalty or life in prison. The law would effectively outlaw most abortions. Though the law offers exemptions in cases where there is rape, incest (where there is a police report filed), or dangers to the mother’s health if she continues the pregnancy, many women will not know they are pregnant until after they have missed the option of having an abortion.
“For context, this kicks in within days of a typical at-home test working,” Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter.
“If you were sexually assaulted (stress delays cycle), took a morning-after pill (throws off cycle), or have an irregular cycle, you‘d have no idea. There are a TON of ways this law ignores basic biology.”
Even for people who find out early, say at five weeks, this would give them only a short amount of time to make a huge decision that most people do not take lightly, come up with the cost of an abortion, and book an appointment.
The new law could also push women to seek unsafe abortions if legal abortions aren’t available. Worldwide, approximately 25 million unsafe abortions take place every year, according to the World Health Organization. Of these, around 7 million lead to complications. This is far higher than when abortion is carried out under regulated conditions.
Slate reports that the bill declares that “unborn children are a class of living, distinct person” that should receive “full legal recognition”. This creates quite a few problems, including imprisoning pregnant women if the full legal ramifications of the law are taken seriously, according to Andrew Fleischman.
If the fetus inside a woman is considered a distinct, living person with full legal recognition, incarcerating a mother would (legally speaking) also be imprisoning a person who had committed no crime nor had a trial.
Then there’s the matter of what happens to women who do seek abortions, even though they are not legally entitled to one. If the fetus is a distinct person, women could possibly be prosecuted for seeking an abortion or even charged with second-degree murder for having a miscarriage, according to Slate.
“A woman who miscarries because of her own conduct – say, using drugs while pregnant – would be liable for second-degree murder, punishable by 10 to 30 years’ imprisonment,” law reporter Mark Joseph Stern writes in Slate.
“Prosecutors may interrogate women who miscarry to determine whether they can be held responsible; if they find evidence of culpability, they may charge, detain, and try these women for the death of their fetuses.”
What the state does with this law in practice remains to be seen.