On Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case guaranteeing abortion rights, which was overturned last year.
Since the landmark ruling last summer, Georgia’s six-week abortion ban has been on and off and is now back in effect as a legal challenge makes its way through the courts.
“It was really devastating. There was a lot of anger, a lot of sadness, especially a lot of grief,” said Kristen Baker of the Feminist Women’s Health Center, an Atlanta clinic that has been providing abortion services since the 1970s, during a virtual discussion Saturday organized by the Amplify Georgia Collaborative .
Anti-abortion protesters march past the Georgia Capitol on Friday. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder.
As abortion rights advocates mourn the loss of federal protections and show a way forward in a post-Roe world, some anti-abortion advocates celebrated the anniversary by urging more restrictions at a gathering near the state Capitol.
Georgia now bans most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, sooner than many women even consider buying a pregnancy test. When the measure passed in 2019, Georgia Republicans boasted it was the toughest law in the country. Other states have since enacted stricter laws than Georgia’s.
For people like Daphne Harris Nicely, executive director of the Atlanta Morning Center, an anti-abortion pregnancy center, that means embryonic humans are being murdered every day.
“Those responsible only for the overthrow of Roe v. Wade got what they asked for,” she told a crowd of hundreds at the Georgia March for Life Memorial Service rally on Friday. “Its a lot to do. We must recognize the personality, the humanity, the dignity of this child’s life, the intrinsic value of this life.”
Woodstock Republican Rep. Charlice Byrd said that’s what she hopes to achieve with a new bill in the 2023 legislative session.
“I will propose an amendment to the Georgia state constitution so that this state recognizes the primary right to life of all human beings as individuals at every stage of development,” she told the crowd. “A resolution will come out so you can vote that all lives matter.”
Rep. Charlice Byrd. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder
In addition to the six-week period, doctors in Georgia may perform abortions if the woman’s health is compromised, the pregnancy is not viable, or in cases of rape or incest where a police report has been made. Byrd said their bill would eliminate those three exceptions.
“We’ve got these exceptions right now, the three, but I want to eliminate those three. It’s totally pro-life,” she said.
Passing such a bill would not be an easy task. A constitutional amendment requires a two-thirds majority in both chambers. The state’s 2019 abortion law passed the House of Representatives by a simple majority, and Democrats have since gained ground in the chamber, although Republicans still control the Legislature.
An amendment to the country’s constitution would also need to be approved by a majority of voters, and a poll released in October showed that nearly two-thirds of Georgians oppose the current abortion law.
‘Let’s wait and see’
House Speaker Jon Burns said Thursday he has no desire to change Georgia’s law now, preferring instead to see what the state Supreme Court decides on a Fulton County judge’s decision that repeal law.
“I think the attitude that the House should be in – and certainly the attitude that Jon Burns is in – is that we’re going to wait and see exactly what becomes of the legislation that we pass,” Burns said.
House Speaker Jon Burns speaks to reporters as the legislative session begins. Jill Nolin/Georgia Recorder
“We will hear from the state Supreme Court and then we will take action if necessary. If not, we certainly have something on offer.”
The state Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments in late March, while the deadline for bills to smoothly transition from one chamber to another this year is March 6.
Speaking to reporters at the rally, Byrd said she was not troubled by Burns’ wait-and-see attitude.
“It is still my right to be able to enforce laws at any time,” she said. “I mean, it’s easy for him to tell me no, but there’s a whole lot of people out here who want that to happen. They want a pro-life change. So we can have that conversation and that dialogue with Speaker Burns, not today, but certainly in the coming days while we’re in session.”
Nathaniel Darnell, director of the National Federation of Republican Assemblies in Georgia, led the protesters in prayer before a silent march through downtown Atlanta, grimly suggesting that God has ways to deal with lawmakers who don’t push his favored total-abortion legislation .
“May you protect those who would protect life. Lord, may you please confront legislators who may try to be an obstacle to this effort. We thank you for how you have delivered us from a legislator, a speaker who has made himself an obstacle, and we pray, Father, that you will help other legislators to minister to you in fear and take warning.”
Former House Speaker David Ralston, a Blue Ridge Republican and respected state leader, died in November after a long illness. He was 68.
‘Do not go away’
While the state’s most outspoken anti-abortion advocates rallied at the state Capitol for stricter limits, abortion rights advocates marked the anniversary by rallying people to act out their frustrations.
“We know there’s always a lot to do to address the things that are unraveling here in Georgia to make sure they’re unraveling less here in Georgia,” said Roula AbiSamra, state campaigns director at Amplify Georgia, during the virtual discussion on Saturday. “And at the same time, we must keep weaving and building for much better than the status quo.”
Pro-abortion rights protesters march through Atlanta in 2022. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder.
Rep. Shea Roberts, an Atlanta Democrat, said a bill that would protect access to abortion in Georgia would be introduced this week, although she conceded it was unlikely to be heard in the GOP-controlled General Assembly .
“Obviously what we plan to do going forward is to continue to face them every opportunity to let them know that Georgians who support total access to all health services, including abortion treatments, are not going away – that’s what we expect from us freedom.” , we deserve our freedom and that we will stay ahead of them,” Roberts said.
Roberts said she remains hopeful that the state Supreme Court will overturn Georgia’s abortion law, which was passed before Roe v. Wade was overturned, which a Fulton County judge ruled the law was “simply unconstitutional.”
That would throw the issue back to lawmakers to decide whether to try again when the 2019 measure barely cleared the House, which now has a slightly smaller GOP majority and dozens of new lawmakers.
Rep. Karen Lupton, a newly sworn Democrat from Chamblee, said reproductive freedom is a key concern of voters in her district, including men, during her campaign.
“We’re fighting an uphill battle, but we’re willing to do it – to mitigate the bad things and stand in the way of worse,” Lupton said.