Georgia's heartbeat abortion bill is dangerous for women nationwide

Georgia's heartbeat abortion bill is dangerous for women nationwide
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Late on Thursday, March 7th, minutes before a key legislative deadline, the Georgia House of Representatives advanced HB 481, which proposes to outlaw nearly all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

Now with the bill headed towards the Georgia Senate, women and girls may have to revert to unsafe ways to end their pregnancies if voters and lawmakers don’t act. Given that many women will not even realize they are pregnant prior to six weeks, common sense tells us the bill effectively bans abortion in Georgia.

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This policy is potentially lethal for women and girls across the state and it goes against medical and public health science. Despite a similar law being struck down in Iowa, HB 481 sets up a unique challenge for Roe v. Wade. Moreover the 11th circuit court of appeals, where Georgia is located, is considered one of the most conservative in the country.

Despite Georgia legislators’ stated intentions to protect women’s health, when abortion is restricted, deaths rise; outlawing abortion forces women to resort to unsafe abortions. In limiting access to abortion, lawmakers may unwittingly force women towards these unsafe options. By contrast, where legal and more easily accessible abortion rates actually go down

Major health organizations including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, American Public Health Association, and the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering & Medicine, agree that abortion is safe and a necessary part of women’s health care. 

The American Psychological Association has found abortion is not associated with negative mental health outcomes for women; similarly there are no known associations between abortion and negative physical health outcomes. By contrast, HB 481, known as the L.I.F.E. Act, may actually increase deaths in women.

In Georgia, the state with the highest death rate of pregnant women in the nation, HB 481 further threatens to drive away greatly needed health care providers. Even now, half of the counties in the state do not have a single practicing obstetrician/gynecologist — or a hospital where women can give birth and access basic gynecological services. 

Enacting HB 481 may make Georgia unwelcoming for doctors interested in practicing in the state due to fears of criminalization; it will likely worsen care of those women living in counties with few practitioners.

Supporters of HB 481 will note that exceptions to the six week limitation do exist. However, these exceptions are fatally-flawed. For example, the bill requires that any girl or woman who is the victim of incest or rape file a police report to access an abortion. Many survivors don’t disclose childhood sexual abuse or rape until years after the abuse, much less within the course of an unplanned pregnancy. Forcing survivors to disclose by requiring a police report adds insult to literal injury, burdening survivors instead of lessening their pain.

While HB 481, like other so-called “heartbeat” bills, is bad science and bad for Georgia in particular, it is also part of a strategy to advance anti-abortion legislation to the Supreme Court. With the recent appointment of Brett KavanaughBrett Michael KavanaughLewandowski on potential NH Senate run: If I run, 'I'm going to win' Cook Political Report moves Susan Collins Senate race to 'toss up' Sen. Susan Collins: Israel should allow Omar, Tlaib to visit MORE to the Supreme Court, it has been widely theorized that laws such as these may be not be deemed unconstitutional, completely restricting abortion access in many states.

HB 481 will likely become law if Georgia state senators don’t hear from constituents about the bill’s harmful effects for Georgia’s women and girls. The vote in the Georgia State Senate is expected next week (date and time still pending as of this writing). Voting no on HB 481 and similar bills would be a vote to protect the health lives of women and girls.

Laura M. Gaydos, PhD is an Associate Professor in the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University. Elizabeth A. Mosley, PhD, MPH and Subasri Narasimhan, PhD, MPH are post-doctoral fellows at the Center for Reproductive Health Research in the Southeast in the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University.