Article written by Jessica L.
A lot of disturbing headlines about the new Georgia heartbeat law have been circulating over the past week. Many of these headlines are completely false and are clearly designed to provoke strong emotional reactions and create a sense of fear and unsafety. Nobody wants to think that a woman could be sentenced to life in prison for having an abortion, yet that is what these headlines and posts on social media are telling readers to believe.
So how do we distinguish misinformation about this law from truth and reality? We read the law itself.
HB 481, the Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act, was signed by Governor Brian Kemp on May 7, 2019. You can find the full text here:
Miscarriages will absolutely not be prosecuted. The idea that a woman would be prosecuted for having an illegal abortion is also incorrect.
This law states that, once an unborn child has a detectable heartbeat, he or she can no longer be aborted, except in certain cases.
Abortions are allowed up to 20 weeks gestation in cases of rape and incest.
If a physician deems that an abortion is medically necessary in order to avoid the mother’s death or significant irreversible physical harm, the abortion is permitted.
There is also an exception that allows for an abortion in the case that a physician deems a pregnancy to be “medically futile,” meaning that they believe the child to have a severe condition that will prevent the child from surviving after birth.
The law also takes care to classify both miscarriages and stillbirths as “spontaneous abortions,” not as “abortions” or “criminal abortions.” A spontaneous abortion is not illegal, and a woman would not be prosecuted for having a miscarriage or a stillbirth. Furthermore, if a woman does have a miscarriage or stillbirth, it is perfectly legal for a doctor to then perform a procedure to remove the unborn child. Miscarriages will absolutely not be prosecuted.
The idea that a woman would be prosecuted for having an illegal abortion is also incorrect. The LIFE Act makes amendments to Georgia Code 16-12-141. It does not change, repeal, nullify, or overrule any other preexisting statute. Specifically, Georgia Code 16-12-140 very clearly defines criminal abortion to be an act administered to a pregnant woman by a third party. Only a person other than the woman who received the abortion may be prosecuted for performing the procedure. Additionally, Georgia Code 16-5-80 states that a woman cannot be prosecuted for committing feticide.
The LIFE Act could not be used to prosecute women who have abortions.
There is legal precedent that demonstrates this to be true. The Court of Appeals of Georgia has stated that this statute only applies if a third party was involved in performing the abortion, and it refuses to “criminalize a pregnant woman’s actions in securing an abortion, regardless of the means utilized.”
Furthermore, Code 16-12-140 specifies that someone found guilty of criminal abortion should receive between 1 and 10 years in prison. No one can be sentenced to life in prison for performing an abortion procedure.
Even Staci Fox, the President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, told the Washington Post, “The news headlines and social media headlines that speculate about the bill’s unintended consequences are – at the very least – not productive. At most, they’re harmful.” She stated that the LIFE Act could not be used to prosecute women who have abortions.
We need to be sure that we are not believing or spreading misinformation and “fake news.”
I encourage you to read the entire LIFE Act for yourself. I’ve addressed the main misconceptions that have been flooding the internet over the last week, but the bill includes multiple other beneficial amendments and additions to Georgia law. A few examples:
It makes amendments to existing child support statutes such that fathers of unborn children may be compelled to pay child support towards a pregnant mother’s medical bills and other pregnancy expenses.
It includes more information in the “Woman’s Right To Know Act.”
It states that, once an unborn child has a detectable heartbeat, that child can be claimed as a dependent minor for tax purposes.
It’s important that we are careful not to let ourselves get swept up in media frenzies. We need to be sure that we are not believing or spreading misinformation and “fake news.” We live in a great country where every one of us gets to have a voice, and every voice is important. Instead of spreading fear and lies, let’s use our voices to spread truth and do good.
Paul, D., & Wax-Thibodeaux, E. (2019, May 12). Could miscarriages land women in jail? Let's clarify these Georgia and Alabama abortion bills.
French, D. (2019, May 13). No, Georgia's Heartbeat Bill Won't Imprison Women Who Have Abortions.
Hillman v. State (Court of Appeals of Georgia June 3, 1998) (Casetext, Dist. file).
Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act of 2019.
LIFE Act of 2019.
David French, “No, Georgia's Heartbeat Bill Won't Imprison Women Who Have Abortions,” National Review, published May 11, 2019, https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/georgia-heartbeat-bill-will-not-imprison-women-who-have-abortions/.
O. C. G. A. § 16-12-140. ; French, “Won’t Imprison Women.”
O. C. G. A. § 16-5-80. ; French, “Won’t Imprison Women.”
French, “Won’t Imprison Women.” ; Hillman v. State (Court of Appeals of Georgia June 3, 1998), Casetext.
O. C. G. A. § 16-12-140. ; French, “Won’t Imprison Women.”
Deanna Paul and Emily Wax-Thibodeaux, “Could miscarriages land women in jail? Let's clarify these Georgia and Alabama abortion bills,” Washington Post, published May 12, 2019, https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2019/05/11/could-miscarriages-land-women-jail-lets-clarify-these-georgia-alabama-abortion-bills/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.ce2b8f56f0a2.