And they scoffed at us when we said The Handmaid’s Tale was prescient—or maybe, they were actually smirking.
Georgia’s HB 481 bill, signed on Tuesday by
bogus Gov. Brian Kemp and proposed to go into effect in January 2020, has sounded a death knell for women’s reproductive rights in the state, and a given a green light for like-minded states to do the same—like Georgia’s partner-in-oppression, Alabama (the seventh state to pass abortion restrictions this year), and chomping-at-the-bit Missouri. That is, if the bill, or a bill like it, is not struck down by a now-conservative majority Supreme Court.
The bill’s declaration that “unborn children are a class of living, distinct persons” deserving of “full legal recognition” not only prevents women from legally gaining access to an abortion after “embryonic or fetal cardiac activity” is detected (approximately six to eight weeks, which is when a vast majority of women first discover they’re pregnant), but threatens to penalize them with life in prison for making the decision not to remain pregnant.
Get the hell out of my uterus, Georgia. We don’t even go together.
But as Slate writer Mark Joseph Stern outlined in a series of worst-case scenarios, it’s still a question of whether, when forcing their will on the reproductive systems of potentially millions of women, Georgia lawmakers really contemplated all of the repercussions of the draconian and regressive policies they are proposing.
For instance, as Stern notes:
[I]t is not clear whether the bill’s drafters contemplated the more dramatic consequences of granting legal personhood to fetuses. For instance, as Georgia appellate attorney Andrew Fleischman has pointed out, the moment this bill takes effect on Jan. 1, 2020, the state will be illegally holding thousands of citizens in jail without bond. That’s because, under HB 481, pregnant inmates’ fetuses have independent rights—including the right to due process. Can a juvenile attorney represent an inmate’s fetus and demand its release? If not, why? It is an egregious due process violation to punish one human for the crimes of another. If an inmate’s fetus is a human, how can Georgia lawfully detain it for a crime it did not commit?
OK, so maybe that’s an unexpected, if dubious bonus—particularly for women who may be unable to post cash bond or are given egregious sentences for nonviolent crimes. But how about women who self-terminate a pregnancy? Unlike a previous bill outlawing forced abortion upon a woman but allowing her the option to terminate her own pregnancy, Stern points out that HB 481 conspicuously allows no exemptions for women who make that choice, meaning even women who seek non-medical measures to abort are vulnerable to prosecution under the new law—meaning they’re basically being forced to give birth.
Misoprostol, a drug that treats stomach ulcers but also induces abortions, is extremely easy to obtain on the internet, and American women routinely use it to self-terminate. It is highly effective in the first 10 weeks of pregnancy. Anti-abortion advocates generally insist that they do not want to punish women who undergo abortions. But HB 481 does exactly that. Once it takes effect, a woman who self-terminates will have, as a matter of law, killed a human—thereby committing murder. The penalty for that crime in Georgia is life imprisonment or capital punishment.
And if that sounds extreme, consider the case of Georgia resident Kenlissia Jones, who was charged with murder in 2015 for self-terminating her late-term pregnancy via an “abortion pill” after not being able to afford a medically assisted abortion.
“This morning, I dismissed that malice-murder warrant after thorough legal research by myself and my staff led to the conclusion that Georgia law presently does not permit prosecution of Ms. Jones for any alleged acts relating to the end of her pregnancy,” District Attorney Greg Edwards said at the time. “Although third parties could be criminally prosecuted for their actions relating to an illegal abortion, as the law currently stands in Georgia, criminal prosecution of a pregnant woman for her own actions against her unborn child does not seem permitted.” (Jones still faced a misdemeanor charge for alleged possession of a dangerous drug.)
That was then. This is now.
In 2020, a murder charge against someone in Jones’ condition would likely be upheld in court, as would a second-degree or manslaughter charge against a women who miscarried due to conduct that endangered her fetus, such as drug use, again calling into question the threshold at which a woman is deemed responsible for knowing she’s pregnant. And as both Slate and Harper’s Bazaar pointed out, even organic miscarriages may be subject to investigation to determine the cause and potential culpability or criminality.
I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a Handmaid’s Tale plotline to me. Still think it couldn’t happen? Think again. As Bazaar reminds us:
In 2016, The New York Times reported that a woman who miscarried two fetuses at 24 weeks was charged with “abuse of a corpse,” a class C felony that carries a 3-10 year prison sentence in Arkansas. Her bail was set at $50,000 and she’s still awaiting trial. In New York, a woman who was not wearing her seatbelt during a car crash, which the jury felt caused her unborn fetus to die, was sentenced up to nine years in prison.
The easy solution might seem to simply leave a state where abortion becomes illegal to obtain an abortion in another. If so, don’t plan on coming back, because as Stern points out, “[i]f a Georgia resident plans to travel elsewhere to obtain an abortion, she may be charged with conspiracy to commit murder, punishable by 10 years’ imprisonment.”
And don’t forget about those left behind, because “an individual who helps a woman plan her trip to get an out-of-state abortion, or transports her to the clinic, may also be charged with conspiracy. These individuals, after all, are “conspiring” to end of the life of a “person” with “full legal recognition” under Georgia law,” Stern writes.
In fact, it seems the only ones not deserving of “full legal recognition” in Georgia and the other states stripping back reproductive rights are women attempting to responsibly exercise their options about if and when they reproduce. And while the argument is inevitably raised that there are plenty of methods available to prevent getting pregnant in the first place, the reality is that outside of abstinence, none of those methods are 100 percent effective.
Meanwhile, the same Georgia legislators attempting to force women (and girls) to carry pregnancies to term preside over a state where 27 percent of children under the age of six live below the poverty rate; a rate that lessens by less than three percent for children aged 6 to 11, according to WelfareInfo. In 2017, Al.com reported that more than a quarter of Alabama children lives in poverty. And a 2018 report by Missouri’s News Tribune stated that one in six of the state’s children is food insecure.
So please, let’s stop pretending these proposed laws are about Christian values or valuing life.
This is about control—under His eye.