On Tuesday, Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia signed the “heartbeat bill” HB 481 into law. While the bill’s main goal is to outlaw abortion after five to six weeks of pregnancy, the law’s provisions establish fetuses as full people under the law — meaning women could be held criminally responsible for seeking an abortion or even for having a miscarriage.
What You Need To Know
- On Tuesday, Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia signed HB 481, a bill banning abortion after five to six weeks of pregnancy.
- It’s set to take effect January 1, 2020, but at least two reproductive-rights organizations are challenging it on the grounds that it violates Roe v. Wade.
- In addition to banning abortion after a heartbeat can be detected, the law’s personhood provisions would seem to allow for women who perform their own abortions, travel out of state for an abortion, or are found to be responsible for a miscarriage to be charged with murder.
- While many states have recently approved six- or 15-week abortion bans in an effort to bring a case to the Supreme Court for the purposes of overturning Roe v. Wade, Georgia’s law goes further than others in holding women criminally responsible.
Attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project and the Center for Reproductive Rights told INSIDER on Tuesday that they’re planning on challenging the law, which is set to take effect January 1, on the grounds that it violates Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that protects the right to abortion until the point of viability.
For now, abortion is still legal in Georgia, and it will remain that way if the law, like every six-week ban that other states have attempted to enact, is struck down in court.
While many states have recently passed six- or 15-week abortion bans in an effort to bring a case to the Supreme Court for the purposes of overturning Roe v. Wade, the legal reporter Mark Joseph Stern pointed out in a recent Slate article that Georgia’s law went further than others in the criminal penalties women would face.
In addition to banning abortion after a heartbeat can be detected, the law’s personhood provisions:
- Allow fetuses to be claimed as dependents for tax purposes.
- Count fetuses as people in official population surveys, which would have implications for political representation.
- Allow for women who perform their own abortions outside a formal medical setting to be charged with first-degree murder, which could carry a sentence of up to life in prison or the death penalty.
By defining fetuses as people, the law would appear to have implications far beyond those directly addressed in its text. State prosecutors, for example, might be able to charge women whose pregnancies end in miscarriage with second-degree murder, which carries a sentence of 10 to 30 years, if they can prove the miscarriage was a result of the woman’s own conduct, like drug or alcohol use, as Slate argued.
In a follow-up interview with Slate, Georgia State Senator and attorney Jen Jordan explained that in a 1998 Georgia court case Hillman vs. State, prosecutors charged an 18-year old woman who shot herself in her abdomen while pregnant with attempting to “produce a miscarriage” — but a court threw out the indictment partly because they didn’t want to supersede the legislature, which had then “refused to criminalize a pregnant woman’s acts in securing an illegal abortion.”
At the time, the Court of Appeals explicitly said that changing the law to prosecute women who performed their own abortions, which HB 481 does, could warrant “a criminal indictment for virtually any perceived self-destructive behavior during her pregnancy which could cause a late-term miscarriage, to wit: smoking or drinking heavily; using illegal drugs or abusing legal medications; driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol; or any other dangerous or reckless conduct.”
A woman who travels out of state for an abortion — and anyone who assists her — might similarly be charged with conspiracy to commit murder under Georgia’s fetal personhood law.
Critics of the law found the prospect of criminalizing some miscarriages especially alarming given that approximately one in four first-trimester pregnancies ends in miscarriage, with the vast majority resulting from genetic abnormalities. Many women miscarry before they even know they’re pregnant, sometimes mistaking the bleeding from a miscarriage for a late period.
Georgia isn’t the only state that has begun testing the limits of the law by conferring personhood to fetuses and embryos. In Alabama, which enacted its own personhood statue in 2018, a district court gave the estate of a 6-week-old aborted embryo legal standing to sue an abortion clinic for wrongful death in a suit initiated by the embryo’s would-be father.
As the appellate attorney Andrew Fleischman pointed out on Twitter, establishing fetal personhood has implications not only for civil litigation but for the criminal-justice system as well, since it would extend the constitutional rights to due process, a fair trial, and the right to counsel for fetuses whose mothers have been charged with a criminal offense.
“Georgia has just passed a bill granting full 14th Amendment rights to all unborn children,” he wrote. “As of this minute, Georgia is now holding thousands of citizens in jail without bond in violation of their rights.
“If you’re a criminal defense lawyer with a pregnant client, now is the time to petition for a guardian ad litem or juvenile attorney to represent the unborn to secure their release.”
Under Georgia’s law, it’s unclear whether fetuses would be given their own separate trials or right to counsel if their mothers were charged with crimes, what would happen if a jury found a mother guilty but her fetus innocent, or whether all incarcerated pregnant women would have to be released from prison once the law goes into effect, since their fetuses were not charged with a crime.
Fetal personhood statues not only have untested implications for abortion but, if upheld by a court, could also jeopardize the legality of fertility treatments like in vitro fertilization or even surrogacy, both of which commonly involve the destruction of embryos that would qualify as people under the law.
While many prominent Democratic politicians and activists have expressed alarm over the law, previous legal precedent suggests its chances of going into effect are slim. Still, Georgia’s approving the law does reflect an increased fervor to drastically limit abortion, with the aim of bringing a case that could prompt the newly conservative-leaning Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.
So far, no state has successfully implemented a six-week abortion ban or brought a case testing the legality of one to the nation’s highest court. Iowa’s attempt at enacting a “heartbeat bill” was struck down by a state court, and North Dakota’s was struck down by a federal court for violating Roe v. Wade.
The governors of Mississippi, Ohio, and Kentucky have signed similar six-week abortion bans into law, all of which are being challenged in court. Alabama is set to pass a law banning all abortion, which will most likely be struck down, and a 15-week ban passed by Mississippi was blocked by a federal judge last year.
(Reporting by INSIDER)
Read Georgia’s controversial anti-abortion law, similar to others enacted in various US states, below:
Missouri Lawmakers Send Anti-Abortion Bill To Governor’s Desk, Joining Other GOP States In Passage
BREAKING: Missouri’s Republican-controlled House passed legislation banning abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy, sending the bill to Gov. Mike Parson (R).
The House passed an emergency clause, meaning the abortion law will go into effect as soon as the governor signs it, according to Trevor Fox, with Missouri House communications. Without the clause, the bill wouldn’t have gone into effect until end of August.
The Missouri legislation comes after Alabama’s governor signed a bill Wednesday making performing an abortion a felony in nearly all cases. Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia approved bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur in about the sixth week of pregnancy.
Once enacted, the law will only kick in if Roe v. Wade is overturned, and Planned Parenthood was assuring women in the state that facilities that provide abortions are still open in Missouri and neighboring Illinois.
If the courts block the eight-week ban, the bill has built-in concessions of less-restrictive time limits that would prohibit abortions at 14, 18 or 20 weeks or pregnancy.
Here are some of the provisions of the bill:
- The measure bans all abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy.
- If the courts do now allow the ban at eight weeks, there is a series of other limits that would go into effect: at 14 weeks, at 18 weeks and at 20 weeks.
- The bill includes a “trigger” mechanism that would ban abortion in Missouri if Roe v. Wade was ever overturned.
- The measure prohibits selective abortions based on sex, race or Down Syndrome.
- It requires that both parents provide written consent for a minor to have an abortion.
- In-state abortion facilities must hand out required printed materials when the patient is from out of state.
This story will be updated.
Missouri lawmakers have passed a strict antiabortion bill that will criminalize the procedure at eight weeks of pregnancy, following several other conservative states that have approved similar measures.
Missouri’s Republican-controlled House voted 110 to 44 on Friday to pass the bill and send it to Republican Gov. Mike Parson for his approval. Parson, who has vowed to make Missouri “one of the strongest pro-life states in the country,” is expected to sign it into law.
HB 126, known as the “Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act,” would ban abortions before many women know they are pregnant, with no exceptions for rape or incest.
The vote came just hours before the state’s legislative session was set to end, and was preceded by an emotional debate in the House, where some lawmakers recounted their own experiences with abortion. Aside from some outbursts from spectators in the gallery and quiet sobbing at times that appeared to come from the House floor, the chamber was largely silent during the arguments about the bill.
Supporters said the bill would protect unborn children’s lives, but opponents argued it would also put the mothers’ lives at risk, forcing them to either suffer or go underground to seek illegal and unsafe procedures.
“We will be killing women with this bill,” Rep. Sarah Unsicker, a Democrat from the St. Louis suburbs, said before the vote.
But the Republican House speaker, Elijah Haahr, celebrated the passing of the bill.
“Today, the Missouri House stood for the unborn,” the speaker said in a statement.
“…The Missouri House made the statement that in Missouri, we believe an unborn child is a human life worth protecting,” he added. “We value the life of every Missourian and renewed that commitment all session. In passing this bill, we took a powerful step forward to show this includes the unborn. Our children will remember the moral, not political, vote members took today to protect the voice to the unborn.”
Missouri’s Senate had approved the bill early Thursday amid an apparent race among conservative states to get the Supreme Court to consider overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide, but with provisions for protecting women’s health and prenatal life. Similar legislation passed in Georgia, Mississippi and Ohio — and Alabama’s governor on Wednesday signed the nation’s most-restrictive abortion ban into law. The Alabama law makes it illegal for a woman to have an abortion at six weeks of pregnancy.
If Missouri’s HB 126 is signed into law, as expected, it will make it illegal for a woman to get an abortion after the eighth week of pregnancy and provide no exceptions for rape or incest — only for medical emergencies.
The legislation defines a medical emergency as “a condition which, based on reasonable medical judgment, so complicates the medical condition of a pregnant woman as to necessitate the immediate abortion of her pregnancy to avert the death of the pregnant woman or for which a delay will create a serious risk of substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant woman.”
Doctors who violate such a law would face a Class B felony, punishable by five to 15 years in prison, as well as suspension or revocation of his or her professional license, according to the bill.
The Missouri governor has showed strong support for the bill, tweeting before the votes: “Thanks to leaders in the House and Senate, we are one vote away from passing one of the strongest #ProLife bills in the country — standing for life, protecting women’s health, and advocating for the unborn.”
Following the House vote, the Missouri GOP thanked lawmakers who “voted to protect the lives of the unborn.”
“Missouri just passed the strongest, most comprehensive pro-life bill in the country,” the party announced on Twitter. “This bill was designed to withstand a legal challenge, not to attract one.”
Planned Parenthood vowed on Twitter: “We. Will. Not. Stop. Fighting.”
Missouri Democrats called the bill “far too extreme.”
“In their quest to join the legal challenge to Roe v. Wade, the extremist majority is putting $7 billion in healthcare dollars at risk for the most vulnerable Missourians, including children in parts of the state with higher infant mortality rates than in developing countries,” the group said in a statement. “This vote demonstrates in stark terms the importance of voting for candidates that will focus on policies that improve health outcomes rather than go backwards.”
(Reporting by Washington Post, NBC News, and CNN)
Missouri Poised To Pass Restrictive Abortion Law, Days After Alabama
(Reuters) – Missouri House lawmakers are expected to pass a bill on Friday to ban most abortions eight weeks after conception, days after Alabama introduced the nation’s most restrictive abortion law.
Missouri senators overwhelmingly approved the legislation early on Thursday and Republican Gov. Mike Parson is expected to sign it into law. He has said he would make Missouri “one of the strongest pro-life states in the country.”
In the bill, the only exclusion would be for medical emergencies. On Wednesday, Alabama banned abortions at any time barring the same exception.
Similar laws have been proposed in more than a dozen other states as Republican-controlled legislatures push to restrict the rights of women to terminate their pregnancies.
Renewed efforts to roll back Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide in 1973 have been emboldened by two judicial appointments by President Donald Trump that have given conservatives a solid majority on the Supreme Court.
At a time when U.S. rates of abortion have sharply declined, the issue has also reignited clashes between religious conservatives and others who say pro-life protections should extend to the unborn, and those, including civil libertarians, who see such measures as an infringement on women’s rights.
The sharpened national focus on the highly charged debate also coincides with the run-up to the 2020 U.S. presidential election.
U.S. abortion rights activists have vowed to go to court to block enforcement of the Alabama law, which is scheduled to take effect in six months.
Should the Missouri measure win final passage in the House it would go into effect on Aug. 28, with or without the governor’s signature.
Dubbed the Missouri Stands for the Unborn bill, it passed the Senate on Thursday in a party-line vote, with 24 Republicans supporting it and 10 Democrats opposed.
In common with the Alabama bill, it would outlaw abortion even in the case of rape or incest. Violations by doctors would be punishable by prison sentences, though women who seek out the procedure would not be subject to criminal prosecution.
The measure also would ban abortions altogether except for medical emergencies should Roe v. Wade be overturned.
As of May, legislation to restrict abortions has been introduced in at least 16 states this year. Governors in four have signed bills into law banning the procedure if an embryonic heartbeat can be detected, generally considered to be as early as six weeks.
Abortion-rights activists argue that rolling back 45 years of legal precedent to criminalize abortion would expose many women to dangerous health risks posed by illegal abortion providers.
Some Republicans pushing for abortion restrictions acknowledge they are deliberately doing so to instigate court challenges that will ultimately force the Supreme Court to reconsider Roe v. Wade.
It held that the due process clause of the 14th Amendment provides a fundamental right to privacy that protects a woman’s right to abortion.
It also allowed states to place restrictions on the procedure from the time a fetus could viably survive outside the womb. The opinion stated that viability is usually placed at about seven months (28 weeks) but may occur earlier.
US Senate Confirms Abortion Opponent As US Judge In Louisiana
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate has confirmed Louisiana lawyer Wendy Vitter as a federal judge, overcoming opposition from Democrats who criticized her anti-abortion stance and accused her of trying to hide her record on the issue.
Maine Sen. Susan Collins was the only Republican to oppose Vitter’s nomination, which was approved 52-45 on Thursday.
A former prosecutor, Vitter is general counsel for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New Orleans.
Washington Sen. Patty Murray said Vitter failed to disclose hundreds of documents highlighting her opposition to abortion, including a claim at a political rally that Planned Parenthood is responsible for killing 150,000 women a year.
Murray, a Democrat, called the remark careless, reckless and wrong, and said it showed “incredibly poor judgment for somebody who is being considered for a lifetime judicial appointment.”
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