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DeKalb commissioners defer resolution protecting abortion access

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DeKalb commissioners defer resolution protecting abortion access

DeKalb County Government Manuel J. Maloof Center in downtown Decatur. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

This story has been updated.

Decatur, GA — The DeKalb County Board of Commissioners, at its Oct. 25 meeting, deferred a resolution protecting abortion access and reproductive health, rights and justice in the county until November.

Commissioner Ted Terry said the Employee Relations and Public Safety committee has worked on a revised version of the resolution and will discuss the substitute at the next committee meeting.

“[The] substitute needs to be discussed in committee, and we ran out of time last ERPS committee, so it is on [the] agenda next Tuesday,” Terry told Decaturish.

The board of commissioners will take the matter up again at its second meeting in November. The resolution was introduced to the commission on Aug. 2 and has been deferred four times by the board.

According to the resolution posted on the county’s website, the county condemns the misapplication of criminal laws to punish people for the outcomes of their pregnancies; affirms that people deserve access to high-quality healthcare without fear of reprisal or punishment; and condemns the criminalization of providing essential healthcare, including abortion care.

The resolution also states that DeKalb County:

– Affirms the ethical obligations of healthcare providers to safeguard patient privacy;

– Declares a vision for a future where access to abortion and gender-affirming care is universally free from restrictions, bans, and barriers, and people are able to manage care on their own terms free from discrimination or punishment;

– Ensures all people have the economic, social, and political power and resources to make informed decisions about their bodies, sexuality, and reproduction for themselves, their families, and their communities in all areas of their lives; and

– Affirms DeKalb County’s commitment to working toward these goals in partnership with patients, providers, advocates, and their communities.

The county also supports the county’s district attorney, as she advised her office to not prosecute abortion related cases.

The resolution additionally says that the county urges state lawmakers to protect and promote access to reproductive health care and the right to abortion care by promoting preventative healthcare services, and ensuring everyone has access to comprehensive, affordable healthcare.

“Finally, be it further resolved, that we pause in our deliberations to declare DeKalb County a sexual and reproductive health care safe zone, ensuring the people’s rights to reproductive freedom, and naming these rights as fundamental,” the resolution states.

During the meeting, commissioners received multiple public comments urging them to pass the resolution to decriminalize abortion in the county.

Allison Coffman, executive director of Amplify Georgia Collaborative, urged the commission to stop delaying the vote and pass the resolution

“I am proud to live in one of Georgia’s largest and most diverse counties and want to see county leadership stand up in defense of its constituents’ right to access the full spectrum of reproductive health care, including abortion care, without fear of criminalization,” Coffman said. “As someone who has experienced multiple miscarriages and a complicated pregnancy, I’m afraid of how Georgia’s HB 481 may impact the care that my OBGYN can provide should I decided to have another child.”

House Bill 481 went into effect over the summer and bans most abortions after around six weeks of pregnancy. The law also classifies embryos as having “personhood” rights, according to WABE.

“This change creates confusion for medical providers around what care they can offer pregnant people when complications arise,” Coffman said. “Knowing that our local elected officials are not going to take part in the intimidation and possible criminalization of people who provide support or access reproductive health care is very important.”

Rachel Wasserman urged the commissioners to protect abortion rights.

“Each of us should be able to live, work and make decisions about our health and our future with dignity and without fear of criminalization,” Wasserman said. “HB 481 was allowed to go into effect in July. This bill bans abortion after fetal cardiac activity around six weeks of pregnancy and defines a fetus as a person under Georgia Law. The bill explicitly criminalizes abortion providers and can be used to criminalize people who seek or support others to get abortion care.”

She added that counties and cities have a responsibility to prevent the criminalization of their residents for decisions regarding pregnancy.

“DeKalb County should make a commitment to not put any resources towards the investigation or prosecution of people providing or seeking abortion care, and ask law enforcement to do the same. No one deserves to be criminalized for seeking essential health care,” Wasserman said. “DeKalb County governing authority has a responsibility to preserve and expand opportunities for all to thrive, which includes the ability to access sexual and reproductive health care. Health care is a fundamental human right and should never be banned or criminalized.”

Eliza Barnett added that people who seek abortion care should be e dissuaded from accessing services because a law aims “to control their bodies and medical decisions.”

“As a public health student and advocate of global access to safe, affordable and compassionate abortion care, I believe that decriminalizing abortion in DeKalb County would help quell fears for people who worry that their pregnancy outcomes or self-managed abortions may put them at risk of legal trouble,” Barnett said. “Criminalizing the bodies of people who can get pregnant will lead to fear, unsafe abortions, and continued health inequities, especially for those with low access to reproductive health care.”

Some DeKalb residents also asked the board to not pass the resolution protecting reproductive freedom. Iris McCoy said that the unborn have a right to live.

“They are human beings like us. Please protect their right to life. Women should not be criminalized for having abortions. If they make the decision to have an abortion, it’s often because they are under great duress due to their circumstances, pressure from family etc. They need compassion and support,” McCoy said. “Hopefully, they will receive information about alternatives to abortion, and about the support and assistance that is available.”

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