You probably noticed that our fair state has been making national headlines lately because of the “fetal heartbeat” bill that our legislature passed last month. The bill, which outlaws most abortions that take place after the first six weeks of a pregnancy, was signed by Gov. Brian Kemp and will go into effect in January 2020 unless it is blocked by judicial action, which seems likely.
Given that women generally don’t know for sure that they’re pregnant within the first six weeks of gestation, the law will effectively criminalize most abortions that don’t meet special exempted circumstances. Legal abortions could be obtained outside the six-week window if the mother’s health is endangered by the pregnancy, the fetus is determined not to be viable, or the mother was a victim of rape or incest. That last exception would only be allowed if the woman filed a police report when the act of rape or incest occurred.
There are a few other interesting wrinkles in the proposed new law. The state more or less confers citizenship on the six-week old fetus, allowing the mother to collect child support from the child’s father to help pay for her prenatal care and to claim the developing child as a dependent on her state tax returns.
That part of the law will be a challenge to enforce to say the least. Miscarriages are fairly common, so the state will have to keep track of a woman’s pregnancy pretty closely to ascertain that the she doesn’t continue to reap economic benefits if a pregnancy does not go to term.
And while we are on the painful subject of miscarriages, there is a real possibility that a woman who has one after this law takes effect could be subject to a police investigation to determine whether or not some form of illegal abortion was involved in the termination of her pregnancy. Since a six-week old fetus will now be considered a citizen under Georgia law, his or her death could be subject to an investigation just like anyone else’s would be.
The details of how this law will be enforced are a bit murky at this point, but it’s clear that the government is going to be much more involved in the pregnancies of Georgia women if and when it takes effect.
It is by no means a sure thing that the law will ultimately stand up to the court challenges that are surely in store for it, but it could. We need to assume that it will, and we need to start planning for how we are going to handle the changes it will bring to our state if it does stand.
We can safely assume, for instance, that there will be a marked increase in the incidence of women injuring themselves while attempting a self-abortion or having an abortion performed by an unqualified person in an unsafe, unhealthy environment. That will place a new burden on our health care system for treating these women and additional work for law enforcement to locate and shut down illegal abortion facilities.
We will also need to account for the fact that thousands more babies will be born in Georgia each year to mothers who would have preferred to terminate their pregnancies. How will we ensure that these women will get proper prenatal care, and that their children will be taken care of after they are born? Beefing up the budget and staff of DFACS might be a good place to start.
To neglect these issues would be belie the premise that the law was passed out of compassion for the unborn. If the state outlaws the right for women to terminate a pregnancy, then the state must take ownership of the consequences of that decision. Those consequences will be diverse and complex, and I hope the sponsors of the bill have a plan for how they are going to address them.
Bill Ferguson is a resident of Warner Robins. Readers can write him at email@example.com.