Georgia and Ohio's new abortion laws will harm women, but Republicans only care about winning a political battle

Though the GOP claims these laws honor the sanctity of life, they prove the party's utter disregard for women already living.
Image: Michelle Disher, dressed as a Handmaid, protests Georgia's anti-abortion "heartbeat" bill at the State Capitol in Atlanta on May 7, 2019.
Michelle Disher, dressed as a Handmaid, protests Georgia's anti-abortion "heartbeat" bill at the state Capitol in Atlanta on May 7, 2019.Elijah Nouvelage / Reuters
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By Jennifer Gerson

An ectopic pregnancy can potentially kill you (and the embryo), so any delays in getting care — and medically accurate, evidence-based care — could put a pregnant person’s life on the line. Generally speaking, that involves removing the embryo from the fallopian tube in which it cannot gestate and which it would, left alone, cause to burst, killing the woman.

Which is why one would think the state of Ohio would have a vested interest in making sure its citizens could have access to such care.

But the new bill currently introduced by Republicans in the Ohio state house would preclude doctors from pursuing the standard of care in cases of life-threatening ectopic pregnancies, and ban private insurance companies from covering it by calling it an abortion and forcing them, instead, to cover a re-implantation procedure whether the woman wanted that or not.

There's more than one problem with the law but let's start with the biggest: You can’t re-implant an ectopic pregnancy. That’s medically, scientifically impossible. It’s just not a thing.

So life-saving surgery to save a person whose life is in jeopardy because of an ectopic pregnancy? Not allowed. A make-believe procedure that supposedly saves neither fertilized egg nor the life of the person whose life is in jeopardy? Required. Does this mean that you can expect those who carry pregnancies to die? Yup.

The bill would also ban procedures and forms of birth control that they believe prevent implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus, so woe betide Ohioans who have intrauterine devices, too.

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And then there's the new bill just signed into law in Georgia earlier this week by the state’s Republican governor, Brian Kemp, which is the most restrictive abortion ban in the country to date. The new law, which has not yet gone into effect, not only bans abortion after six weeks "gestational age" — or in layman’s terms, about two weeks after a missed period — but also contains a provision that declares that “unborn children are a class of living, distinct person” that require “full legal recognition.”

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The law continues by declaring that now, in the state of Georgia, the laws must “recognize unborn children as natural persons.” You can debate just what an unborn child really is or means, but in Georgia a four-week-old embryo the size of a pea counts as a person, even though it's completely unable to survive outside the uterus. An embryo that’s being called "a life" because it has a heartbeat, despite the fact that at six-weeks gestation, no organs have developed and what’s heard through ultrasound isn’t a heart beating (since there is no heart yet) but cardiac activity in the fetal pole. At six weeks gestation, the "heartbeat" is basically electrical activity in the yolk sac of a still highly undeveloped fetus.

So anyone in the state of Georgia who terminates a pregnancy mere weeks after fertilization is liable for murder under the law. Providers could face the death penalty, as could women who get abortions — even if they travel out of state to get them or, potentially, should they miscarry if prosecutors decide the miscarriage is their "fault."

This latest slew of anti-abortion bills and laws making their way around the country are all similar in that they increasingly up the ante at chipping away at the rights guaranteed under Roe v. Wade, and aren't necessarily intended to enter into force as much as bring on legal challenges that can make their way to an anti-choice Supreme Court in the hopes of overturning Roe.

The effects that living in a post-Roe world could have on people across the country is tremendous. It would, among other things, be a new mechanism for mass incarceration, mostly of women. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

Georgia, for instance, already has the worst maternal mortality rates in the country, and Black women are disproportionately affected, dying in childbirth nearly 3.5 times more frequently than their peers in any other racial group. By effectively banning all abortion, the state is also forcing women to carry pregnancies, no matter what the circumstances. In a state where Black women disproportionately die as a result of pregnancy, this new law is also a kind of death sentence for a huge portion of the state.

And in Georgia, if embryos are granted the full legal rights, it could have major repercussions on the process of in vitro fertilization, wherein eggs are fertilized outside the womb for future transfer to a uterus with the hope of a potential pregnancy. Remember: Not all embryos transferred during an IVF cycle result in a pregnancy, as many fail to implant in the uterine wall or otherwise result in miscarriage.

If a woman can be prosecuted for "causing" a miscarriage, it's entirely possible that she could be prosecuted for participating in a procedure with a risk of miscarriage, or even be forced to try to gestate all of the embryos she created. And, of course, screening embryos created through IVF for potentially fatal genetic disorders would also be out of the question, as each embryo would be considered a person. That would, in effect, force many children to be born with conditions guaranteed to cause their often painful deaths.

Every time more barriers are put in the way of women seeking abortion care — and there’s no greater barrier than criminalizing the patients who seek such care and the physicians who provide it — women and families suffer. Women who are denied wanted abortions often find themselves the victims of prolonged domestic violence. Women who are denied wanted abortions find themselves dealing with anxiety symptoms and low self-esteem for years after being unable to access the care they wanted. Women who are denied wanted abortions face years and years of economic instability and hardship.

And when young and low-income women are already hit the hardest by these restrictions, this same demographic suffers even more greatly when the barriers increase. These women are already struggling and facing systemic and institutionalized discrimination that impedes their ability to succeed, thrive and, simply, live.

Although these laws come coupled with lots of talk about honoring the sanctity of life, they show utter disregard for countless lives of women already living. It should go without saying that women don’t want to die, see their mental health threatened or their economic security put at risk just because of laws that have no basis in science or fact — or any regard for the sanctity of women's lives, or the lives of their children.