Georgia Abortion Bill




T

here
is a lot of curiosity about HB 1,” says Beth Cope, Executive
Director of the Georgia chapter, National Abortion and Reproductive
Rights Action League (GARAL). “People want to know if it’s
real or if it’s a hoax.”


Indeed,
when Representative Robert Franklin, a conservative businessperson
from Cobb County, Georgia, introduced H.B. 1 in late November, nearly
everyone— mainstream Republicans to radical feminists—wondered
whether to laugh or to shudder. They quickly figured it out: Franklin’s
bill poses one of the gravest threats to freedom of choice in 30
years.


 The
proposed bill amends Georgia’s state code “to provide
that any person seeking to have an abortion first file a petition
in the Superior Court.” In the petition, the woman must request
an order allowing the pregnancy to be terminated. That’s just
the beginning. Under the statute, the Court is required to appoint
a guardian ad litem for the fetus and schedule a jury trial. At
trial the court is mandated to “balance the rights of the fetus
against the rights of the person seeking to have an abortion performed.”


“H.B.
1 [would] make it a felony for doctors to perform an abortion without
a warrant, equating the term abortion to an execution,” says
a GARAL press release denouncing the bill. “If enacted, H.B.
1 would, for the first time under state law, recognize the fetus
as a person, with rights separate from, and equal to, those of a
woman.” What’s more, the notion of arguing one’s
case before a jury would subject women to humiliation and embarrassment
and would violate their right to privacy. Likewise, weighing the
rights of women against those of an embryo amounts to a callous
and mean-spirited attack. “Even before Roe, women were not
subjected to a jury trial. HB 1 is a grotesque abuse of power…[it]
attacks women and our right to make personal decisions regarding
our bodies,” GARAL concludes.


According
to Elizabeth Cavendish, legal director of NARAL, as horrifying as
H.B. 1 is, it is an extreme version of a national trend. Approximately
300 bills to restrict abortion have been passed by states since
1995. “For years the anti- abortion movement has used an incremental
strategy to increase the burden on women who want an abortion, to
increase the burden on providers, and to endow the fetus with the
status of a human being. The restrictions are meant to crank up
the degree of difficulty for women and their caregivers,” says
Cavendish. They have been successful:


  • 31 states have
    passed—and 27 now enforce—“informed consent”
    laws, which require all women seeking abortions to receive a lecture
    on fetal development, adoption services, and programs available
    to help those who continue their pregnancies before they can schedule
    an abortion

  • 22 states impose
    waiting periods—usually 24 hours—between hearing the
    lecture and having surgery

  • 44 states have
    laws barring non-physicians from performing abortions

  • 34 states provide
    no Medicaid funding for abortion; of the 16 that provide coverage,
    most make it available only in cases of fetal abnormality, rape,
    or when the pregnant woman’s life is endangered or health
    at risk because of the pregnancy

  • 14 states require
    minors to notify at least one parent before having an abortion;
    18 require parental consent

  • 35 states have
    at least one Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider [TRAP] law
    on the books. These requirements—not imposed on health centers
    offering other types of ambulatory care—regulate everything
    from hallway corridor and door frame width to the temperature
    of operating rooms to the number of hours training staff must
    receive


“It’s
ironic that 30 years after Doe v. Bolton, a Georgia case challenging
the requirement that women go before a hospital abortion committee
for permission to have the procedure, we’re back to square
one with Franklin’s bill,” says NARAL’s Elizabeth
Cavendish. “I see HB 1 as a signal of newfound confidence that
conservatives will have the Supreme Court in right-wing hands before
too long and will soon be able to recriminalize abortion. This seems
like a throwback to the days when the antiabortion movement was
more candid about their goal, which is not just to make incremental
change, but to make the procedure illegal.”


While
it is still too early to know what will happen when HB 1 comes up
for a vote, the fact that Georgia Republicans won numerous seats
in November’s election does not bode well for choice. Tom Murphy,
Speaker of the State House for three decades—dubbed “a
bulwark” against attempts to enact limits on the procedure
by Atlanta’s progressive newspaper,

Creative Loafing

—was
defeated. So was Senator Max Cleland, a man awarded a perfect rating
by NARAL.


“We
fight anti-abortion bills year after year,” says GARAL’s
Beth Cope. “H.B. 1 has gotten one of the strongest reactions
I’ve ever seen to a piece of legislation. There’s been
an outpouring from people wanting to do something to help defeat
it or donating money to us. We’re trying to galvanize our support
and are now putting together our strategy for the session. We’re
organizing a Pro-Choice Republican Women’s Task Force because
many of the party elite and regular people loyal to the party are
not pleased with Franklin. We’re also monitoring other anti-choice
bills, alerting the media, writing letters to the editor, and organizing
local lobbying to stop the bill.”     







Eleanor
J. Bader is the co-author of



Targets of Hatred: Anti-Abortion
Terrorism



and a frequent contributor to



In These
Times, Library Journal, the Progressive,



and the



New
York Law Journal



.