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Where’re We’re At, Where’re We’re Going: Reproductive Rights in Georgia

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September 10, 2012

With anti-abortion laws forcing clinics to shut down in Tennessee and Mississippi this summer, I felt compelled to examine the forces at work in other Southern states, including my home state of Georgia.

Were there even any good things to be said about the state of reproductive rights south of the Mason-Dixon?

I peeked at the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) 2011’s survey through gaped fingers. Entitled Who Decides? The Status of Reproductive Rights in the United States, the report is a great tool to examine the accessibility of reproductive health services in your own state. Each one receives a letter grade based upon its reproductive healthcare accessibility.

Despite my worst fears, the Peach State received a ‘D’ from NARAL. I felt relieved; almost as if it were Finals Week and I’d passed a difficult exam by the skin of my teeth. Meanwhile, my classmates, Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi had all failed.

Unfortunately, beating Florida only counts in SEC football–never in reproductive justice.

When anti-choice legislation passes in one individual state, it hurts everyone in that region. For example, 49% of the late-term abortions in Georgia are performed on women who come from other states. Given that Georgia passed a 20-week ban on abortions last spring, women in other Southeastern states will also be affected once this law goes into effect.

Southern states are historically less progressive than their Western and Northern counterparts, each one facing the same economic barriers. There is no coincidence that Georgia, Mississippi, and Louisiana are the three poorest states in the nation and that they all scored poorly on NARAL’s survey. The correlations between rural poverty and limited abortion access are all too noticeable when unpacking the study’s findings.

The Good

In Georgia, contraceptive equity is mandated. This means that health insurance plans covering prescription medications must also cover contraception costs. In addition, family planning services are available to women from low-income families. However, these remain off-limits to two critical demographics: Women who were not assigned female at birth and undocumented women.

While thousands benefit from these resources annually, Georgia prohibits the public funding of abortions for women on state assistance. Given that Georgia’s economy is roughly $50 billion in debt, this seems like a disingenuous move. Wouldn’t it be more feasible for the state provide abortions to low-income women, rather than paying another child’s way for 18 years?

Dealing With Deal

Inaugurated in 2010, Governor Nathan Deal has supported oppressive measure after measure throughout his political career. While in the state legislature, Deal attempted to dilute Georgia’s rape shield laws. Had his efforts been successful, district attorneys would be able to interrogate survivors about their dating history and clothing worn during the assault. Deal also voted against a handful of domestic violence bills which would have protected survivors of in-home assault.

Nathan Deal’s Assbackwards Track Record on Abortion

 

As a Congressman, he consistently voted against pay equality for women and the Family Medical Leave Act, a protective measure that allows employees to take time off from work in the event of pregnancy or illness.

Needless to say, Nathan Deal is hardly a reproductive justice advocate. Just when we thought he couldn’t do much worse: He signed a Fetal Pain Law into effect this spring, banning abortions after 20 weeks.

The Inevitable ‘F’?

When it comes to reproductive healthcare, Georgia is walking a precariously thin line between accessibility and becoming a desert.

On July 31, a Fetal Personhood Amendment made an appearance on the Georgia Primary ballot. It looked like this:

“Should the Constitution of Georgia be amended so as to provide that the paramount right to life is vested in each innocent human being from his or her earliest biological beginning without regard to age, race, sex, health, function, or condition of dependency?”

As someone believing that life begins at birth and not at conception, my reaction to this question would be an adamant, “Yes, of course! And can we add gender identity and sexual orientation in there for good measure too, please?”

However, a “yes” in favor of this item would have been a vote in favor of an anti-choice measure. Deceptively worded, Georgia’s Fetal Personhood Amendment stood a higher chance of passing.

And it did. By an overwhelming 66%.

What does this mean for Georgians? It remains uncertain. In order for a Fetal Personhood Amendment to go into effect, legislation must be drafted and voted upon in the state senate and house. With two years left in his gubernatorial term and an anti-choice track record to boot, Deal would almost certainly sign such a law into effect. Georgia Right to Life—the organization behind the so-called “Life Amendment”—hopes that this legislation will create a ban IUDs and the Morning After Pill.

At this point in the game, we must begin asking anti-choicers: Whose lives are more important here? The lives of Georgia’s women, or those of the hypothetical children which they would struggle to raise? Additionally, we must begin pressing our elected officials to side with our state’s women instead of the hypothetical.

A contact sheet for Georgia’s Senators and Representatives can be found here.

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