The Dangerous Implications of Georgia’s “Backdoor Abortion Ban”

In a moment that could’ve been straight out of The Handmaid’s Tale, Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia on Tuesday signed into law one of the most stringent abortion restrictions in the country.

The so-called “heartbeat bill” dictates that a fetus is a “natural person” and “human being” once a heartbeat is detected—and makes abortions after six weeks of pregnancy a crime punishable by life in prison or the death penalty and allows for authorities to investigate women who miscarry to determine whether they could be considered at fault.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez sounded off against the “backdoor ban,” which outlaws abortion before most women even realize they’re pregnant.

“This kicks in within days of a typical at-home [pregnancy] test working,” she explained on Twitter. “If you were sexually assaulted (stress delays cycle), took a morning-after pill (throws off cycle) or have an irregular cycle, you’d have no idea. There are a TON of ways this law ignores basic biology.”

Similar bills are in the works in 10 other states—Missouri, Tennessee, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, South Carolina and West Virginia—but Georgia’s new law is uniquely far-reaching, and it has dangerous legal and scientific implications for women’s lives.

“As of this minute, Georgia is now holding thousands of citizens in jail without bond in violation of their rights and without a Gerstein hearing,” lawyer Andrew Fleischman reminded his followers on Twitter. That’s because, under current federal law, pregnant inmates’ fetuses have their own independent rights, like the right to fair treatment under the judicial system. “If you’re a criminal defense lawyer with a pregnant client,” he warned, “now is the time to petition for a guardian ad litem or juvenile attorney to represent the unborn to secure their release.”

Georgia also has the highest rate of maternal mortality in the U.S., with 20.5 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. Laws restricting abortion access only compound the problem. According to the National Institute of Health, death by unsafe abortion is one of the leading causes of maternal mortality. Research has also proven that restricted access to legal and safe abortion increase death rates for mothers and children, endanger pregnant women and create poorer health outcomes for all women.

“It’s kind of ridiculous when you’re worse than the state of Mississippi,” Renee Unterman, the chair of the Georgia Senate’s Health and Human Services Committee, said in the wake of Kemp’s approval of the law. “You’ve got to wake up and smell the roses.”

With Trump’s stacking of the Supreme Court, state-level laws about abortion have taken on new significance. Roe is at risk—but feminists have demonstrated that they refuse to go back, in Georgia and across the country.

“Georgians will fight back in the courtroom and at the ballot box,” Stacey Abrams, who challenged Kemp in the 2018 gubernatorial election, tweeted Monday, “and win.”


Roxanne Szal (or Roxy) is the managing digital editor at Ms. and a producer on the Ms. podcast On the Issues With Michele Goodwin. She is also a mentor editor for The OpEd Project. Before becoming a journalist, she was a Texas public school English teacher. She is based in Austin, Texas. Find her on Twitter @roxyszal.