New Abortion Legislation Sparks Debate Across the Country

By Caroline L.
May 20, 2019

New abortion legislation in Georgia and Alabama stormed the news this week, grabbing the headlines of major newspapers and gaining the attention of every broadcasting station. Republican Georgia governor Brian Kemp signed the “heartbeat bill” on Tuesday, and Alabama governor Kay Ivey signed a similar bill on Wednesday. The bills are set to go into effect in both states by January 1, 2020.

The new laws would ban abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected, with extremely limited exception. Georgia’s new law, referred to as HB 481, was described by Governor Kemp as a “common-sense measure” that will ban abortions after a doctor is able to detect a fetal heartbeat in the womb. A heartbeat occurs at about six weeks into pregnancy, before many women even know they are pregnant. The bill strictly prohibits all abortions except during a 30-second window on the third day of the fourth week of pregnancy.

A spokesperson for Kemp said, “To be clear, this statute does not outlaw abortion per se, it merely designates a half-minute timeframe during which a woman must fill out all necessary paperwork, view a sonogram of her embryo, provide evidence of the dates of her last period, and complete the procedure terminating her pregnancy.”

HB 481 grants full legal personhood to fetuses after about six weeks of pregnancy. Under the new law, abortion and self-termination are considered murder with a penalty of life imprisonment or death.

The spokesperson for Kemp went on to say, “This law provides for the licensing of one abortion clinic, which, upon its completion in 2029, will operate in an undisclosed location in the state’s southeastern quadrant. This state-of-the-art medical facility will be staffed by highly trained law enforcement officials who will be on hand to arrest anyone who spends more than her 30 seconds under the care of a physician, at which point she will be charged with attempted murder.”

When Governor Ivey signed a similar bill called the Alabama Human Life Protection Act (HB 314) into law on Wednesday, May 15, she said, “Today, I signed into law the Alabama Human Life Protection Act, a bill that was approved by overwhelming majorities in both chambers of the Legislature. To the bill's many supporters, this legislation stands as a powerful testament to Alabamians' deeply held belief that every life is precious and that every life is a sacred gift from God.”

The impact of the bills stretch far beyond Alabama and Georgia’s borders. Abortion rights advocates and legal scholars are closely watching legislation in several states, but they  aren’t the only ones watching. Westridge students have also taken note of states’ laws on abortion rights.

Kate C., ’19 said, “It wasn’t the first thing I looked at, but by the time I was starting to add colleges to my list, I looked at abortion laws in each state of the colleges I applied to and kept those in mind during my decision making process. At this time in my life, I am in no way ready to have or care for children, and therefore an abortion would be necessary for me so I can pursue the life I have worked for.” Kate continued, “It is a frustrating situation because motherhood should be a choice, not a requirement made by men.”

Simone K., ’21 also commented, “It’s really scary that as a woman I have to worry about the white men in our government making decisions for my own body. Taking away my bodily autonomy does not prove that abortion is wrong.  It proves that no matter how much time has gone by and how much we think we’ve progressed, powerful men will continue to create legislation to perpetuate misogyny and assert their power over us.”

In response to Governor Ivey’s statement, Solaar K., ’20 said, “I am deeply upset with the Alabama senate’s decision to pass this bill not only because it violates an individual’s right to choice and undermines the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade, but also because the justification for this has been tied to religion, which completely violates the separation of church and state.”

Women in Alabama, however, are not all opponents of banning abortion. The state Republican Party is led by a woman, the Alabama Human Life Protection Act Bill was endorsed by a woman, State Representative Terri Collins, and the bill itself was signed by Governor Kay Ivey. Collins has said she would like her bill to go all the way to the Supreme Court, where she hopes it will challenge Roe v. Wade.

Gaby L., ’20 said, “Although I do not understand why the state legislators want to change this bill after nearly fifty years, nor do I agree with or support Alabama and Georgia’s movement to ban abortion in their states, I do see their arguments for pro life.”

Critics of the proposed new laws took to social media in protest.  Actress Alyssa Milano, a vocal opponent of the new bill, had been spearheading a celebrity campaign. On May 11th, Milano posted on her Twitter account: “Our reproductive rights are being erased. Until women have legal control over our own bodies we just cannot risk pregnancy. JOIN ME by not having sex until we get bodily autonomy back. I’m calling for a #SexStrike. Pass it on.”  Milano’s tweet triggered an onslaught of both skepticism and support from both liberals and conservatives, shedding light on the division the country is experiencing over these bills.

Christine Vachon, the chief executive officer of Killer Films, David Simon, creator of “The Wire” and “The Deuce,” and Mark Duplass of Duplass Brothers Productions have voiced their opposition to the newly signed laws. On May 9, Vachon took to Twitter to make her stance on the issue known. She wrote, “Killer Films will no longer consider Georgia as a viable shooting location until this ridiculous law is overturned.”

Along with the support that Vachon and other big Hollywood names gained for boycotting filming in Georgia and Alabama came pushback, with many arguing that the economies in those states would be negatively affected by a boycott. A representative for the Motion Picture Association of America said, “Film and television production in Georgia supports more than 92,000 jobs and brings significant economic benefits to communities and families. It is important to remember that similar legislation has been attempted in other states, and has either been enjoined by the courts or is currently being challenged. The outcome in Georgia will also be determined through the legal process. We will continue to monitor developments.”

Abbey Crain, a journalist based in Birmingham, also subtly cited Milano’s tweet, in a recent op-ed for the New York Times, “If you care about places like Alabama, if you care about women in places like Alabama, the solution isn’t a boycott or a mocking tweet. It’s pretty simple. Y’all come on down here and work with us to make a difference.”

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