A historic ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court on abortion rights could have dire effects for Black people in Georgia. On Friday, the high court overturned Roe v. Wade, its landmark decision that gave women the constitutional right to choose abortion. The implications of an abortion restriction for Black women in Georgia could be dire. In 2019, Black women made up 65% of the state’s abortions.
Georgia is expected to go through with its six-week abortion ban following the decision. House Bill 481, also known as the “fetal heartbeat” bill, bans abortions once cardiac activity is detected, which is typically around six weeks. Most people aren’t aware they’re pregnant by then. The 2019 law does allow for exceptions if the pregnant person’s life is at risk, or in cases of rape and incest.
A 2019 lawsuit in the 11th Circuit challenging HB 481 was put on hold pending the high court’s ruling. Following the Supreme Court’s decision, state Attorney General Chris Carr filed a motion to reverse the district court’s injunction, paving the way for the ban to proceed.
“I’m very concerned about the ways that this will put both patients and providers at risk of jail, fines, or prosecution,” said Kwajelyn Jackson, the executive director of Atlanta’s Feminist Women’s Health Center. “I know that anti-abortion extremists will go to any lengths to try to curtail abortion access, even if it puts so many people in harm’s way.”
The state’s high abortion rate for Black women is nearly double the national rate for Black women of 38%. With Georgia being one of the most dangerous places to be pregnant, especially for Black people, advocates also worry about the potential public health crisis a lack of abortion care could induce in a post-Roe world.
Advocates also worry that a portion of the law that requires victims of rape and incest to file a police report to be able to get an abortion would be dangerous for survivors.
“I don’t think anyone should have to explain why they are going to have an abortion,” said Sabia Wade, an author and educator known as the Black Doula whose work is focused on equity in reproductive rights. “Putting people in that predicament is not fair. One, because of the disclosure, and two, because I think it’s going to create lots of complications when people are in desperate situations.”
Studies and input from experts in reproductive justice indicate that the ballooned abortion rate for Black people in Georgia is due to socioeconomic factors and the state’s subpar track record on maternal health.
“There are loads of implications for a family. Not just their health being impacted, obviously, [but] potential for death, or sliding into poverty,” said researcher Johanna Pringle, co-director of administration at Emory University’s Center for Reproductive Health Research in the Southeast. “One additional pregnancy, or the first pregnancy or the fourth pregnancy, can slide a family into poverty depending on where they stand. So this will have lots of implications for the Black community going forward.”
In Atlanta, local leaders are attempting to curb how abortion is criminalized. The City Council unanimously approved taking away funding that would go toward investigating potential abortions. The resolution, led by councilwoman Lilianna Bakhtiari, adds a layer of protection for people seeking abortions in the city and those who provide them.
In reaction to the Supreme Court decision, Bakhtiari emphasized that the ruling will disproportionately impact women of color and birthing persons who are more likely to be low income and less likely to be able to afford to travel out of state or seek alternative methods to have an abortion.
Bakhtiari stressed that abortions are still legal in Atlanta. If HB 481 is deemed constitutional, she said the council’s resolution means Atlanta Police Department will make enforcing the six-week abortion ban a low priority. That does not necessarily preclude state police or other law enforcement agencies from enforcing an abortion ban.
“We can’t stop them, but we can do everything we can to slow them down and to put protections in place to prevent that from happening,” she said.
DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston vowed to not prosecute those in violation of HB 481, saying police and prosecutors shouldn’t be “thrust into this health space, regardless of the legislation on the books.”
“Criminalizing abortion undermines public safety and public trust,” Boston told Capital B Atlanta. “Further, it threatens the lives, health, and well-being of marginalized individuals whose access to safe abortion procedures will be restricted greater than others. We are creating dangerous ‘have’ and ‘have not’ scenarios that operate contrary to the bedrock of public safety.”
Even with an abortion ban, local experts don’t think abortions will stop. Instead, the procedures could increase and become more dangerous. A spokesperson from Planned Parenthood said an influx of earlier abortions is expected before a potential ban takes effect.
One study from Emory University shows that after Georgia restricted abortions after 22 weeks, the rate of Black people seeking out the service increased. A ban in Georgia would likely have a ripple effect on maternal and reproductive health in the Southeast, leaving people to travel further distances to access abortion, or have no access altogether.
“This decision from the Supreme Court is putting the entire country into a potential health care crisis,” Jackson said. “It is not just going to disproportionately affect the South. It’s also going to deeply affect the Midwest, the Northwest, and the places where abortion is protected, potentially being overwhelmed by patients who are desperate for care.”