On Wednesday, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a measure banning all abortions at any point during gestation, except in cases where the woman's life is in danger. The law is the nation's strictest abortion ban. Just a few days before, Georgia became the fourth state this year alone to ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat (which is not a real "heartbeat" at all, according to doctors) is detected.
In the rush to address these extreme measures, which pose an obvious threat to women's reproductive freedom, many have painted images of a Handmaid's Tale-esque dystopia. The problem is that this is not an accurate picture. In fact, failing to report accurate information about Alabama and Georgia's abortion bans is already hurting patients in these states.
"Abortion is still legal in all the states that have passed abortion bans," Quita Tinsley, deputy director of ARC-Southeast, told Refinery29. "[But the misinformation] scares people; they think they are no longer able to have abortions. We've spoken to callers who think they have to hurry up, make their decision, and have their procedure because they're afraid that it might not be legal anymore. There are also people going out of the region because they believe that abortion is illegal in Georgia and Alabama."
The muddled language of these measures, which allows for people to theorize how these bans could potentially impact patients and what the larger implications might be, is one of the reasons behind this disinformation. (See: The ultimate goal of overturning Roe v. Wade.)
"There's a lot of over-interpreting of what [these bans] could mean. I'm not trying to scare anybody to think it's even worse than it already is," Roula AbiSamra, an organizer in Georgia with the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum (NAPAWF), told Refinery29. "It's already really bad to say that there's a law designed to prevent abortion care."
Ahead, everything you need to know about these laws.
What is Alabama's HB 314, the Human Life Protection Act?
House Bill 314 bans abortion at any stage of gestation, except in cases in which the woman's life is in danger. It makes no exceptions for cases of rape or incest. The legislation makes performing an abortion a felony offense and would punish health providers with a minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum of 99 years. It was signed into law by Gov. Kay Ivey on May 15.
What is Georgia's HB 481, the Living Infants Fairness and Equality Act?
House Bill 481, which was signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp on May 7, is part of a wave of so-called "heartbeat" bills that have been aggressively introduced by conservatives since January. The measure bans abortions once a fetal "heartbeat" (more accurately "fetal pole cardiac activity") is detected, which typically happens at around six weeks of gestation — before many women know they're pregnant. HB 481 makes exceptions for cases of rape, incest, and when the woman's life is in danger.
When do these abortion laws go into effect?
Alabama's HB 314 will go into effect in November 2019, six months after being signed. Georgia's HB 481 is meant to go into effect in January 2020.
However, both these laws are likely to be challenged by advocates and ultimately blocked by the courts because they're unconstitutional.
When can women legally get an abortion in Alabama and Georgia?
In Alabama, patients can legally terminate their pregnancies up until 21.6 weeks of pregnancy. Women seeking to terminate an abortion must undergo a 48-hour waiting period and state-mandated counseling before they can access the procedure.
In Georgia, women can obtain an abortion up until 22 weeks of pregnancy. To obtain abortion care, they must undergo a 24-hour waiting period.
What happens to women who get an abortion if it is considered a crime?
Alabama's ban criminalizes abortion providers, not women who seek this type of care. In Georgia, however, it's a bit more complicated. The fetal "heartbeat" ban does not explicitly say women who terminate their pregnancies are exempt from prosecution. However, legal experts believe that women would not be criminalized under HB 481 because the state's legal code offers specific protections for women.
If there's a legal challenge, will the U.S. Supreme Court take on these cases?
That's the goal. Many anti-choice lawmakers feel emboldened by the Trump administration and the conservative majority in the U.S. Supreme Court. By passing these extreme abortion bans, they are hoping to bring the legal challenge that would overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that guaranteed a woman's right to choose. It will take a while to get there, however. The problem is that in the meantime, while legal challenges move slowly through the courts, patients in these states will be caught in the crossfire.