This editorial also appeared in the North Gwinnett Voice on May 25, 2019.
The Governor of Georgia has signed into law an unconstitutional abortion ban, a bill that coerces women into continuing unwanted pregnancies under threat of criminal penalty. This coercion is hidden behind the emotional language of a “heartbeat,” but it is coercion and intimidation, nonetheless.
In signing this bill, the governor also undermines a woman’s right to private health decisions without undue government interference, women’s health, and the role that reproductive freedom plays in women’s economic security.
Most recent legislation that is designed to make abortion inaccessible hides behind a fig leaf of protecting the health of the pregnant woman — waiting periods, clinic regulations, etc. Not this bill. The legislators were explicit in their dismissal of the health and well-being of the pregnant woman— severely and explicitly narrowing a physician’s ability to protect the health of a pregnant woman and specifically excluding her mental health from consideration with regard to continuing the pregnancy.
And this is happening in a state that is one of the most dangerous in America for a pregnant woman — even more so if that woman is black. In 2016, The Yale School of Public Health found that the pregnancy-related maternal mortality ratio in Georgia was 40.8 per 100,000 live births. The maternal death rate for black women in Georgia is twice that for white women in Georgia and 6 times the rate for white women, nationally.
This legislation worsens the outlook for women’s health in Georgia.
Women’s ability to fully participate in our economy for themselves and their families are enabled by their right to choose when and whether to have or expand a family. Sandra Day O’Connor was a lawyer and mother who overcame discrimination to become the first woman to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court. Writing for the court in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey (1992), Justice O’Connor affirmed the court’s decision in Roe v. Wade establishing a woman’s right to choose abortion, pre-viability, as a limitation on the power of the government. She went on to address Roe’s effect on equality for women, “The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.” Decades later, Justice O’Connor’s assertion is even more true.
This legislation worsens the outlook for women’s equality in Georgia.
Like Justice O’Connor and most women, I have multiple roles. I am a mother, grandmother, and a woman who is the leader of the ACLU of Georgia. In each role, I am committed to protecting the rights of women. I affirm that motherhood is a right that may be chosen and never, ever coerced— and to defend that principle. Governor, we will see you in court.
Andrea Young is executive director, ACLU of Georgia.