On Tuesday, Governor Brian Kemp of Georgia signed HB481, or the “heartbeat bill,” into law, which bans abortions following six weeks of conception, before many women are able to recognize their pregnancy. The law is expected to be challenged legally by Roe v. Wade, a 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized women’s right to an abortion.
Though championed by conservatives across the state, many have taken to social media and have even campaigned outside of the Georgia State Capitol to express their discontent. Regardless of anyone’s moral stance on the topic of abortion, the bill is inherently a detriment to women who lack the necessary resources to tend to a child and an aggressive measure against the progression of women’s rights.
The aspect that conservatives are primarily indifferent to is the tendency to view abortion as the issue rather than the elements behind the choice to get an abortion. It is rarely – and doubtfully ever – a matter of a woman getting an abortion for the sake of getting one. Instead, it is one based on circumstance and reflective of the fear in giving birth to a child one does not have the ability to care for. In a study conducted by Guttmacher Institute, a majority of surveyed women admitted to having an abortion due to financial inhibitions or their inability to care for dependents. Granted, there are women who raise children while impoverished, youthful and marginalized by society, but the decision of one should not be determinant of all. Even as a marginalized member of society myself, it is not unlikely to ignore my own privileges when speaking on the topic of abortion. Whereas there may be substantial sustainability in my life — even as a teenager — to raise a child, some women around me are not given enough opportunities to even consider giving birth. Aside from constraining feminine autonomy, this limit on women’s decision to get an abortion forces pregnancy on those who cannot concede financial or emotional attention to a child.
Naturally, forced pregnancy leads to women sending their children into the dreaded foster care system, which is perpetually dissected for being a broken institution in the United States. As the national number of children in foster care homes continue to increase, Bibb County, Georgia currently holds a disproportionate number of children in foster custody compared to the number of available foster homes. In the enactment of Kemp’s new bill, women will be expected to see their unexpected and unwanted pregnancies to the end, yet there is no regard for the possibility of children having nowhere to go once born. Considering this contradiction, it should be acknowledged that a forced pregnancy is not (and will never be) ideal, especially in a scenario that someone is not in the right financial, mental, or emotional state to raise a child and, additionally, will be compelled to send the child into a broken system.
Parallel from this is the inhibitive nature abortion bans have on the bodily autonomy of women. As someone who attends a public school in Georgia, I have heard the negative notions spew out of the mouths of conservative males who believe that laws like Kemp’s are necessary to impose on women to maintain civility and protect innocent lives. It is, for some reason, ignored that this reflects too deeply on the concept of holding women to a standard of servitude and obedience and is frankly an option not meant to be held at the mercy of men.
The right to an abortion, as described by NARAL, a pro-choice movement, is essential in women’s choice on with who and when they want to begin a family. This has always been the basis for the pro-choice movement – to give every woman the right to decide if they are ready to pursue a path of caring for a child. It is meant to transcend former restrictions of women deciding to not have children, which is triumphant of times when even birth control was federally banned. How these little ironies are found, in which a man has once again found his way into deciding whether or not millions of women have the right to an abortion.
What’s more, women are more likely to begin to pursue self-induced or other methods of illegal abortion. Though there are numerous women prepared to medically step in across the country when laws like Kemp’s heartbeat bill are enacted, there are safety hazards to getting a furtive abortion. With an annual rate of 22,800 global deaths following unsafe abortions, restrictions on legalized abortion must be repealed. The legalization of abortion was enough to prevent some maternal deaths in America that formerly attributed to this statistic but the undoing of this can lead to a regression in women’s rate of survival. If anything, Kemp’s law shows that the fight is not about life itself. If it were, lawmakers would be considerate of how many lives will be lost if women are forced to pursue unsafe methods.
Perhaps rather than advocating for the limitation of women’s rights, Kemp could consider funding sex education in Georgia schools and drop the conservative urge to promote abstinence – a suggested Christian and conservative method that has proven to be an ultimate fail. Additionally, reform methods such as increasing the financial income women receive when having children, granting free contraceptives to women and reinforcing access to Planned Parenthood may be a more effective approach to limiting abortions.
If this legislation, alongside laws being pushed in states such as Alabama and Ohio, are indicative of the future for abortion, I fear for all women living within the United States. As we witness this regression, lawmakers like Kemp are ingrained in their notions that restricting this decision by women is a signal of progress. I hope to see immense challenges on this imposed law and others that favor it. In an age where women are expected to bend in the direction of societal oppression, it is difficult to imagine how to revive fundamental change that champion women’s rights.