Alabama just passed the most restrictive abortion law in the country.
On Wednesday, Alabama governor Kay Ivey signed a near-total abortion ban into law. It outlaws the procedure at every stage of pregnancy, reclassifying it as a homicide and, therefore, a felony. The law has no exceptions for rape or incest.
Interestingly enough, the bill compares the number of aborted embryos and fetuses to the number of people killed during the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, in Stalin’s Soviet gulags and so on.
Twenty-five Republican state senators – who are all white men – voted to pass the bill which will not go into effect until November. However, legal challenges might not let it get that far.
Meanwhile, Georgia grants embryos and fetuses legal personhood.
Georgia governor Brian Kemp signed a similar bill into law on Tuesday. His will ban abortions after six weeks, the point at which fetal cardiac activity is detectable.
The Georgia law grants embryos legal personhood and explicitly lays out some implications. At six weeks, embryos will be considered dependent minors for tax purposes. They’ll be counted in certain population measures and ending a pregnancy will be considered homicide. Mothers will also be able to receive child support for pregnancy-related medical costs at this six-week mark.
Though legal measures like these are called “heartbeat” bills, embryos at this stage haven’t actually developed hearts. The cardiac activity comes from the fetal pole, a collection of cells within the membranous sac that’s attached to the embryo. Scientists don’t begin calling an embryo a fetus until the 9 to 11 week mark in the pregnancy.
States are shifting strategies.
Previous laws attempted to restrict abortions by banning certain methods, limiting funding to clinics that offered the procedure or basing restrictions on the age of the fetus. Laws like those in Alabama and Georgia, however, favor a more direct approach – near-total or complete bans of the procedure.
And more are getting in on the action.
Five other states – Iowa, Ohio, Kentucky, Mississippi and Missouri – have also recently passed six-week abortion bills. In addition, similar legislation has passed through one chamber or has been introduced in about a dozen more states.
It’s no secret that the main goal driving these waves of anti-abortion bills is to reach the Supreme Court as part of an effort to reverse Roe v. Wade. The 1973 landmark decision legalized abortion, with restrictions on trimester and fetal viability. In the 1993 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the court switched to the current standard that restrictions must not rise to an "undue burden" on women seeking an abortion.
That’s why the Alabama bill does not contain exceptions for cases of rape or incest. At a panel discussion last Thursday, State Rep. and bill sponsor Terri Collins said that including those exceptions would make the bill “contradict itself,” according to Yellow Hammer News.
Speaking to the Washington Post last Friday, Collins said, “Roe v. Wade does not mention that issue and I want this bill to focus on the reasoning used in the Roe v. Wade decision, ‘Is the baby in the womb a person?’ Any amendment would contradict that point.”
Will the Supreme Court actually overturn Roe v. Wade?
If any bills from this spate of legislation get that far, it’ll be up to the justices. The Supreme Court typically abides by the precedents it’s set. However, it could decide not to hear an abortion case, but it also has the freedom to revisit those decisions.
Now that the conservative Brett Kavanaugh has replaced swing voter Anthony Kennedy, anti-abortion lawmakers and activist groups see an opportunity. His confirmation in October shifted the court away from a relative ideological balance to a definitive lean toward conservatism.
Beyond constitutionality, the bills present challenges for existing laws.
Speaking as a legal analyst on Tuesday’s Politicat discussion show, broadcast by the Northwestern News Network, Medill freshman Virginia Langmaid described the implications that granting legal personhood to embryos could have.
“How do you keep an incarcerated woman who is pregnant?” she asked. “If her fetus is a legal citizen of the state, you’re illegally incarcerating a citizen of the state of Georgia.”
For pregnant undocumented immigrants, the new laws could add a new layer of chaos to the nationwide debate over immigration.
“What happens when you decide that you need to deport the mother, but she’s pregnant with a child that could be born in the state of Georgia that you’ve declared to be a person?” asked Landmaid. “How do you suss out citizenship issues in that way?”
Legal personhood designations could also change punishments for addiction and drug use during pregnancy.
What are people doing about it?
In response to the increasing frequency of anti-abortion legislation, actress Alyssa Milano proposed a sex strike, asking her followers via Twitter to “not have sex until we get bodily autonomy back.” While boycotts can be an effective way to put economic pressure on key players, it’s not clear who the pressure would be on in this case.
Milano and other celebrities have begun a film and TV production boycott against Georgia, aiming to hurt the multi-billion dollar, tax-incentivized industry within the state. Multiple companies have already announced that they’ll no longer film there. Opponents like Stacey Abrams, who unsuccessfully ran for governor in Georgia in 2018, say the boycotts would hurt everyday employees in the film industry.
What can non-celebrities do?
Depending where you stand on abortion, there are different organizations vying for your dollars. Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union are two of the many asking supporters to help them fight legislation.
Irrespective of your political affiliation, you can also support legislation that better informs young people and supports struggling would-be parents. More comprehensive sex education, accessible birth control and affordable social services, like low-cost daycare, could benefit these groups. Measures like these can give people more options besides a last-resort abortion. It also couldn’t hurt to give your representative a call in favor of policies like these.