May 7, 2019; Slate
Five days ago, we published a story about Alabama’s new anti-abortion bill, which would incarcerate doctors who perform abortions at any stage of pregnancy for up to 99 years. Yesterday in Georgia, a bill was signed into law that would impose a life sentence—or even the death penalty—for women who elect to abort after a fetal heartbeat is detectable. Even if a woman goes out of state to avail herself of the procedure, she could be charged with conspiracy to murder, along with whoever has transported her.
HB 481 declares that “unborn children are a class of living, distinct person” that deserves “full legal recognition.” Thus, Georgia law must “recognize unborn children as natural persons”—not just for the purposes of abortion, but as a legal rule.
A woman who miscarries because of her own conduct—say, using drugs while pregnant—would be liable for second-degree murder, punishable by 10 to 30 years’ imprisonment. Prosecutors may interrogate women who miscarry to determine whether they can be held responsible; if they find evidence of culpability, they may charge, detain, and try these women for the death of their fetuses.
Although this is definitely one of those state laws written expressly to get a Roe v. Wade challenge in front of the now-conservative-majority Supreme Court, it is also a prosecution that would not be foreign to the state. Even before the law was passed, a prosecutor in Georgia charged one woman with murder after she improperly used an abortion pill in an attempt to end her pregnancy. The case was dropped once the prosecutor found it legally impermissible; starting next year, no barriers stand against such a prosecution.
The Medical Association of Georgia and the Georgia Academy of Family Physicians opposed the legislation, and the ACLU of Georgia said they would challenge the bill as “unconstitutional.” Heartbeat bills have already become law in Mississippi and Kentucky. Other states considering such legislation include Tennessee, Florida, South Carolina, and Ohio.—Ruth McCambridge