Editorial: Roe v. Wade could soon be history. What will you do in this moment?State Sen. Elena Parent.
By State Sen. Elena Parent
A political earthquake struck the United States on Monday, May 2, 2022. Politico published a leaked draft Supreme Court opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that showed 5 conservative Supreme Court justices had voted to explicitly overturn Roe v. Wade.
For half a century, since Roe in 1973 (reaffirmed in 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey), women across the country have had a constitutional right to end a pregnancy pre-viability. That will end if this draft opinion becomes official, devastating women’s reproductive rights in many states across the country, including Georgia. While not completely unexpected, the draft opinion is extreme in both its rhetoric and judicial philosophy. The impact will be seismic, and more than half of US women could lose their right to abortion or see it severely restricted.
The opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, rests on an originalist judicial philosophy: rights that are not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution nor deeply rooted in the country’s history and tradition are not worthy of Constitutional protection. Taken at face value, this can logically be extrapolated to mean that no right based on the right to privacy given over the past 60-plus years is a right after all, and all should be returned to legislatures to decide. Gay marriage? Interracial marriage? Right to use contraception? All in question.
For women’s health specifically, the decision could have ramifications for access to birth control, the morning-after pill, and medication abortions. The Georgia Senate passed a bill with restrictions on medication abortions this past session, which did not pass the House. I expect that this bill, and others more restrictive, will see a renewed push when we reconvene. Some states, like Louisiana and Tennessee, have already begun to criminalize abortion, which could put women who have had miscarriages, already facing stress and heartbreak, in jeopardy of being falsely charged. Women’s rights to control their bodies, their families, their careers, and their lives are at risk. This means that women’s equality is at risk. According to the Brennan Center, one of the leading indicators of the health of a democracy is the status of rights for women. I do not overstate the risk this decision could have on not just women, but our entire democracy.
If this opinion is adopted, the impact on Georgia would be profound. Even though a majority of Georgians support the right to choose, the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed HB 481, also known as the ‘heartbeat bill’, in 2019. This banned all abortions after fetal cardiac activity is first detected, at approximately six weeks of pregnancy – prior to when many women know they are pregnant. This law was blocked by the courts, but a Supreme Court decision undermining federal protection for abortion would pave the way for its implementation. Republican candidates in Georgia have already promised to pass an outright ban on abortion, without exceptions. A majority male Legislature, Governor, and Supreme Court making these hypocritical decisions for women is infuriating.
Ironically, Georgia otherwise does a poor job elevating women and children. Georgia is number 1 in maternal mortality and ranked 38th on an index of child well-being by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, which looks at 16 categories from poverty to access to education. Implementation of HB 481 means that women will have to remain pregnant, but upon birth, the state will not be as concerned about the outcomes of this woman or her child.
But HB 481 is even more radical than that. It grants personhood to an unborn fetus, giving it rights equal to the woman carrying it. The “logic” here is to set the foundation for a complete and total ban on abortion. This opens a legal and ethical minefield that was not vetted during the consideration of the legislation and could lead to all kinds of restrictions on the lives and freedoms of pregnant women. The law requires that the father provide support for prenatal care, but there is no safe way to test for paternity that early in a pregnancy. What if women engage in risky behaviors? What actions could be taken and by whom? Could women be surveilled for their pregnancy? How will this effect fertility treatments like IVF? Will this limit a couple’s ability to fertilize more eggs than they wish to carry? Much of this will be decided when the lawsuits begin. The father of the fetus, and friends and family members of the pregnant woman, will also be under a microscope should something go wrong with a pregnancy.
If this decision is confirmed, what can we do? First and foremost, we must exercise our power and vote. 68% of Georgians oppose overturning Roe v. Wade according to a recent AJC poll. This upcoming midterm will be critical for women and all Georgians. We must elect pro-choice candidates like Senator Raphael Warnock. Stacey Abrams as Governor and Jen Jordan as Attorney General will have a significant influence on how these laws are implemented. We have the chance to flip legislative seats all over the state. We can advocate for pro-choice policies. This may be as simple as writing an email to State and Federal lawmakers, or as complex as organizing to wield the immense political and economic power held by pro-choice Americans. We can donate to organizations that are advocating and litigating these issues like Planned Parenthood or to organizations supporting access for poor women and women of color, who will be disproportionately impacted by this decision.
When the public so disproportionately favors abortion rights, the cause is not hopeless. Yes, abortion opponents have stacked the courts and gerrymandered the districts. But if the people rise up, these rights can be restored. What will you do in this moment?
State Senator Elena Parent was elected to the State Senate in 2014. She represents District 42, which includes portions of central and north DeKalb County
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