Originally published in the Pittsburgh City Paper.
On May 7, Republican Governor of Georgia Brian Kemp signed HB481 into law. The so-called “fetal heartbeat” bill not only outlaws abortion starting at six weeks, but also redefines “natural persons” to include “an unborn child,” giving embryos beginning at six weeks full legal personhood with all the protections that come with it. One of the consequences of the bill is that women who seek abortions may be prosecuted for crimes punishable by life in prison.
Georgia is the sixth state to enact a six-week abortion ban. Sue Frietsche, senior staff attorney at the Women’s Law Project, situates this within “a tidal wave of abortion ban legislation” at the state level that is part of a broader strategy to roll back or eliminate reproductive rights altogether at the federal level. Frietsche explains that abortion opponents’ strategy is essentially to provoke reproductive rights advocates into challenging the bill and bringing the matter before the Supreme Court. In wake of the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, the court would likely rule in abortion opponents’ favor.
La’Tasha Mayes, founder and executive director of New Voices for Reproductive Justice, agrees, adding that while opponents of abortion access are predictable, “the difference [now] is that they have a zealous advocate in Donald Trump, and faith in a majority high court with no swing vote.”
Despite the Supreme Court’s new conservative majority, reproductive rights advocates will almost certainly challenge the six-week abortion restrictions. In a tweet, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez described Georgia’s six-week abortion bill as a “backdoor ban,” adding that “most men writing these bills don’t know the first thing about a woman’s body outside of the things they want from it.”
She’s right. A six-week abortion restriction, in most cases, amounts to an outright ban. Yet this point is obfuscated by the shocking lack of knowledge of pregnancy, how it is measured, and the logistics of abortion access. I think it is important to clear some of this up.
Pregnancy is measured in weeks beginning on the first day of a pregnant person’s last period. The fertile period of ovulation, however, is about 12-14 days before their next period. On a regular four-week cycle, then, conception typically occurs two weeks after the first day of the last period. What six weeks pregnant means is that someone is two weeks late for their period and conceived approximately four weeks ago.
Importantly, it is only possible to find out that you are pregnant at around the four-week mark, giving those who might want to terminate their pregnancy two weeks to complete the process under these laws — but only if they discover they are pregnant at the earliest possible moment and make an immediate decision.
Even if a person were to have a positive pregnancy test at the earliest possible date, getting an abortion within two weeks is itself unrealistic. Crystal Gee, a reproductive rights advocate and abortion-care worker points out that “sometimes the appointments themselves can be up to 3 weeks out.” Moreover, given that 59 percent of abortion-care patients already have children, childcare is a major hurdle.
Mandated counseling and the costs associated with abortion also make a quick turnaround nearly impossible for many, particularly those already marginalized. Six-week restrictions serve to make abortions inaccessible to all but the most privileged folks, further marginalizing those who are already socially and economically disadvantaged. “Abortion restrictions become a perfect mechanism for both misogyny and racism,” says Frietsche.
We can see this in our own backyard. Neighboring states like Ohio and West Virginia have recently tightened restrictions, leading to a local influx of out-of-state patients seeking care denied to them at home. Local advocates are working hard to protect the remaining abortion access points in our region. You too can get involved by following location organizations like Western PA Fund for Choice, New Voices for Reproductive Justice, or Planned Parenthood of Western PA for opportunities to canvass or donate.