By Moira Donegan
The Guardian (5/9/19)
The anti-choice movement has taken a sadistic turn in Georgia, where a new abortion ban, called HB 481, has just been signed by Governor Brian Kemp. Signed into law this Tuesday and due to take effect in 2020, the bill effectively bans abortion outright, declares fetuses to be persons with full legal rights and protections, and imposes prison sentences for women found guilty of aborting or attempting to abort their pregnancies.
The bill is misleadingly termed a “heartbeat” bill, and it bans abortions at any stage of pregnancy after the detection of “embryonic or fetal cardiac activity”. But “heartbeat” is a bit is a bit of a misnomer, since the cardiac activity that is first detected in an embryo is not a heartbeat by any stretch of the imagination; what is first observed is the pulsing of cells that are specializing and will eventually become a heart. At this point in the pregnancy, the fetus has no brain and no face.
Under the new law, it’s at least possible that Georgia authorities could start treating every miscarriage as a potential homicide.
This cellular movement can first be detected at a phase of pregnancy referred to as six weeks of gestation. But this, too, is a misleading phrase. Gestational age is measured not from insemination, but from the beginning of the patient’s last menstrual period. So the bill bans all abortions at four weeks after conception, or roughly two weeks after the woman’s first missed period.
Moralizing, misogynistic and medically arbitrary
This stage of pregnancy is often past before the patient even knows that she is pregnant. This is the idea: to make the logistical, legal and monetary burdens to access an abortion so heavy that most women will not be able to get one. All this is justified by a moralizing, misogynistic and medically arbitrary logic based on a fantasy that wants to equate the movement of cells with personhood. Based on this logic, women who abort their pregnancies – and, probably, some women who have accidental miscarriages – will be treated as murderers under the law, subject to imprisonment and even capital punishment. Those who leave the state for an abortion, or who help others leave the state for an abortion, can be charged with conspiracy to commit murder and sentenced to up to 10 years in prison.
It is tempting to imagine that the law would not be enforced this way, that prosecutors and juries would not enforce a law that forces women to give birth and threatens to kill them if they refuse. But prosecutors have proved themselves zealous in prosecuting women in states where abortion is already de facto illegal. It would be a mistake to underestimate their capacity for cruelty. …
[Note: The end of the article includes information on safe ways of doing self-managed abortions. — Ed.]