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Black Lawmakers Outline Plans to Protect Abortion Rights Following Overturn of Roe

Urging supporters to vote in November isn’t the only course of action, leaders say.

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Ga., is urging abortion-rights supporters to vote blue in November. (Paras Griffin/Getty Images)

Urging abortion-rights supporters to vote blue in November isn’t the only course of action Black Democrats plan to take to protect women’s reproductive rights ahead of Election Day.

“At the end of the day, my goal is to make sure that women get care when they need it,” U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams told reporters during a Monday press conference.

Williams, who serves as chair of the Georgia Democratic Party, was one of several Black Democratic leaders in the state who expressed anger in the aftermath of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturn of Roe v. Wade on Friday.

State Rep. Jasmine Clark and state Sen. Sonya Halpern said the ruling wasn’t surprising for them due to the leaked draft Supreme Court opinion reported in early May, but that didn’t make hearing the justices’ final decision any easier.

“Now we have to regroup, strategize, mobilize, and fight, not just us as legislators, but along with everyone who is part of the pro-choice majority in Georgia,” Halpern said.

That effort involves ensuring abortion pills are available by mail to women in Georgia, according to Williams, who previously served as public policy vice president of Planned Parenthood Southeast.

The pills, including Mifeprex and its generic alternatives, originally were approved for use by the Food and Drug Administration in 2000. The FDA previously required people seeking abortion pills to obtain them in person at related health clinics, but that requirement was permanently lifted in December.

Abortion is still legal in Georgia. The international telemedicine abortion provider known as Aid Access recently told CNBC it will continue mailing abortion pills to women throughout the U.S., including those living in states where the procedure has been banned.

“This is something that we’re talking about on the federal level so that states can’t intervene with women getting the care that they need,” Williams said.

Williams also said she and other Democrats in Congress plan to continue pushing members of the U.S. Senate to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act. The proposed federal law contains protections included in Roe that would make it illegal throughout the country for the government to restrict abortion access. The U.S. House approved the act in September, but the measure failed in May to pass a procedural vote in the U.S. Senate despite receiving yes votes from most Democrats.

“I serve [with] the majority pro-choice members in the United States House of Representatives, and so we’ll continue to work that angle,” Williams said.

Abortion rights is an issue that disproportionately affects non-Hispanic Black women. In 2019, this group received 38.4% of abortions performed in 29 states and Washington, D.C., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Black women in Georgia received 65% of abortions performed the same year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit health care and health policy organization.

The Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization effectively eliminated the federal-level abortion rights protections previously established in the high court’s 1973 Roe decision.

It also nullified nearly 50 years of legal precedent on the matter, leaving it up to individual state governments to determine whether to legalize abortion for their citizens.

Georgia isn’t one of the 13 states that previously enacted trigger laws, which could allow bans to go into effect immediately if and when the Supreme Court overturned Roe. In 2019, Gov. Brian Kemp did sign a law banning most abortions from being performed after a doctor detects fetal cardiac activity, which typically happens around six weeks of pregnancy — before most women realize they’re pregnant.

In 2020, a federal court blocked the law known as H.B. 481 in response to a lawsuit filed against Kemp by abortion providers and advocacy groups including the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, Planned Parenthood, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.

A panel of three 11th Circuit Court of Appeals judges decided to wait to rule on the suit until after the Supreme Court clarified its position on Roe. Within hours of the Supreme Court’s ruling, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr filed a motion asking the 11th Circuit to lift its injunction on H.B. 481. Attorneys in the lawsuit were asked to submit more documents following the Supreme Court’s decision. According to a spokesperson for the ACLU, the 11th Circuit set a response deadline for July 15, after which the court is expected to issue a ruling. 

“The ACLU of Georgia will continue to defend the rights of Georgia’s women from forced pregnancy,” executive director Andrea Young said in a statement.

Jen Jordan, the Democratic nominee for state attorney general, said the ACLU is also preparing to file a lawsuit challenging H.B. 481 on state constitutional grounds, arguing the measure violates Georgia’s constitutional right to privacy.

“A right of privacy has been recognized in Georgia since approximately 1903,” Jordan said. “This predates all of the precedent even at the federal level with respect to a recognition of that right. Georgia’s [right to privacy] has been reaffirmed over and over and over, and it is considered to be one of the strongest in the nation in terms of the case law interpreting it.”

Ultimately, however, state lawmakers said the best way to reestablish abortion rights in Georgia is to elect abortion-rights candidates, including Stacey Abrams, in November.

“If we have a Democratic governor at the top, even if we don’t have a majority in our chambers, she has a lot more power to say, ‘If I don’t get the things that I need, then you don’t get the things that you want,’ because she has the power of the veto,” Clark said.