Opinion Columns & Blogs

‘Heartbeat’ abortion bill will make women less safe, take Ga. backward in health care

Protesters opposed to a proposed abortion bill fill the hallway in the Capitol on March 18 in Atlanta.
Protesters opposed to a proposed abortion bill fill the hallway in the Capitol on March 18 in Atlanta. AP

We likely unanimously agree that abortion is not the all-encompassing solution to unplanned pregnancies in Georgia. However, given current realities, removing abortion as an option unfairly and unequally strips women of the tools to effectively claim agency over their bodies. With bill HB 481, which would ban almost all abortions after six weeks, fast-tracking through the General Assembly and heading toward Gov. Brian Kemp’s vowed approval, it’s imperative that Georgians who are deeply troubled voice opposition.

Here’s why:

1. More Georgia mothers die during childbirth than any other U.S. state.

Georgia struggles with access to health care, disproportionately affecting rural counties, women of color and women of lower socioeconomic status. Inadequate access to care includes contraception, prenatal and childbirth care, which eliminates women’s choices, further leading to unwanted pregnancies and endangering women’s health. Studies show that carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term is more dangerous to a woman’s health than abortion. As a state proud of Southern family values, we must ask how we are best ensuring the safety and security of the family unit. We believe one of the best ways is by protecting and expanding women’s health care — an action that goes beyond the individual as her health is intrinsically linked to the overall health of the family unit and future generations. Since modern medicine enables the best care ever, our state leaders should be passing legislation to expand care, not restrict it.

2. Basic health information is being withheld from Georgia children.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, two-thirds of Georgia’s schools fail to fully teach recommended sexual health topics, contributing to the state’s national ranks of fourth for HIV diagnoses and 13th for teen pregnancies. Education and access both are necessary for individuals to take agency over their health and bodies. By educating Georgia’s youth about contraception and ensuring equal and fair access to services, we can greatly impact Georgia’s health and spending costs. This has been done elsewhere, including Colorado, whose initiative provided free long-acting birth control to women, reducing teen births and teen abortions by 50 percent and avoiding an estimated $66 million-$69 million in costs.

3. The Medical Association of Georgia says HB 481 “criminalizes physicians.”

The Medical Association of Georgia opposes HB 481. “HB 481 both criminalizes physicians and creates a private right of action against physicians when physicians care for their patients within their scope of practice,” says Dr. Rutledge Forney, president of the organization. This opposition was not discussed during the state Senate’s Science and Technology committee bill hearing where the committee voted in favor 3-2, with three Republican men voting to approve it and two Democrat women opposing it. With half of Georgia’s 159 counties lacking even one OB-GYN physician, the role this bill could play in deterring future physicians to practice in Georgia should be of great concern. Furthermore, the effect of this bill on the abortion rate should be considered. Data repeatedly show that severely restricting abortions does not eliminate them; instead, it increases unsafe abortions. The more effective way to decrease abortions is to increase access to contraception.

This is a complex issue, intersecting health, race, economy, and gender — while tied heavily to individual morals — and we respect other’s rights to different views. However, legislation, likely unconstitutional, that regulates women’s health because of emotional, monetary or other motivators without consideration of evidence-based facts is irresponsible. Georgia’s leaders should be addressing all issues surrounding women’s health care in Georgia, not further restricting it. We believe the healthiest children come from women empowered to make educated decisions about their health. We encourage others who agree, particularly those in healthcare, to continue to speak out.

Alex Oliver and Rachel Levy are Georgia natives and second year medical students at Medical College of Georgia in Augusta.