Georgia Fetal Heartbeat Bill: Facts About Law That Could Send Women To Prison For Abortion

Georgia has passed a misogynistic bill that would jail women as 'murderers' for up to 99 years if they get an abortion. Learn more about HB 481, and how it infringes on your abortion rights.

Women's March 2019
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Georgia is on the verge of violating the federal rights of their citizens seeking abortions, in unprecedented ways. Governor Brian Kemp, who won the governorship by a minuscule margin over Democrat Stacey Abrams in 2018, has just signed HB 481, which would ban abortion after six weeks in the state, should it be written into law. Violating that law, which would go into effect in January 2020, could lead to life in prison, or even the death penalty for women who get abortions. And there’s a real chance this bill could become Georgia law. Here’s what you should know:

1. HB 481 is one of the most extreme abortion laws in the United States in several ways. The bill’s primary purpose is to ban abortion after six weeks, or when a doctor can detect “embryonic or fetal cardiac activity.” Most women do not even know that they’re pregnant at six weeks. That’s just two weeks after a missed period, and in many cases, doctors don’t even check for pregnancy until eight weeks. The current Georgia law allows abortions to be performed in the first trimester (up until the 12th week), unless doctors decide that a later abortion is medically necessary. There would be exceptions to the law: abortions would sparingly be allowed to prevent “death or serious harm” to the mother, if the pregnancy is deemed “medically futile,” (unlikely to be viable, even with medical intervention), and in cases of rape or incest — but only if a police report has been filed first.

2. The bill gives fetuses personhood. HB 481 declares that “unborn children are a class of living, distinct persons” and deserve “full legal recognition.” Additionally, it confirms that fetuses “shall be included in population based determinations,” as they are now classified as humans, and therefore, residents of the state. The fetuses can also be claimed as dependents for tax purposes. It’s unclear if the drafters of the bill understand the more complicated consequences of granting fetuses personhood. For example, as Georgia appellate attorney Andrew Fleishman said: if fetuses are people, wouldn’t the state be illegally holding citizens in jail without bond if a pregnant person is imprisoned?

If fetuses are considered a class of human with rights, then these independent persons are entitled to the right to due process. A lawyer could technically represent an inmate’s fetus and argue for its release from jail, right? If the state says no, then why not? One could argue that Georgia would be violating the 5th amendment after granting the fetuses 14th amendment rights.

3. Women who violate the law could face life in prison or even the death penalty. Violating the proposed law would have devastating consequences for pregnant women. Those who terminate their pregnancies would be considered murderers, under the Georgia law, as they have technically killed another human being. The penalty for committing murder in Georgia is life imprisonment or capital punishment (the death penalty). Seeking an abortion from a doctor would make the mother a party to murder under the law, and the doctor could be punished, as well. It’s unclear what punishment the doctor would get under the law for performing the abortion.

4. Miscarriage could also necessitate a police investigation. Even those who miscarry their pregnancies could still be convicted of murder in some cases. If it’s determined that they miscarry because of their own conduct, like taking drugs or drinking while pregnant, they could be liable for second-degree murder. This would be punishable by 10 to 30 years in prison. With any miscarriage, police will be allowed to interrogate the mother to determine if they can be held responsible. If they find any evidence, such as using smoking or drinking while pregnant, they could charge, detain, and try the women for the death of their fetus.

This part of the proposed law is especially concerning, given that approximately one in four first-trimester pregnancies result in miscarriages, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Many women have multiple miscarriages before having a viable pregnancy. They would have to relive the trauma over and over again as they’re potentially interrogated by police for each one. Many miscarry before they even know they’re pregnant, sometimes thinking the blood from the miscarriage is a late period. Would police examine every late period?

5. Seeking abortions out of state would still violate the law. Pregnant Georgians are still not safe if they seek abortion out of state. Georgia residents could be charged with conspiracy to commit murder if it’s discovered that they plan to travel out of state to get an abortion under the proposed law. This would be punishable by 10 years’ imprisonment. Additionally, a person who escorts them out of state for abortion — say a family member or spouse — could also be charged as an accessory to the “murder.”

HB 481 is scheduled to go into effect on January 1, 2020, unless it is blocked by a federal court in the state of Georgia. Previous legal precedent in other states indicates that the chances of the bill being passed into law are slim, but not entirely out of the question. Attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project and the Center for Reproductive Rights have already said that they are planning on challenging the law on the grounds that it violates Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court case which legalized abortion in the United States. Planned Parenthood announced plans to raise money to get legislators who support the bill out of office.

Read the contents of HB 481, in full, HERE.

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