As It Happens

Georgia senator speaks out against restrictive 'heartbeat' anti-abortion bill

A Democratic senator in Georgia condemned the passing of a new, restrictive abortion law, saying it could spark unintended legal consequences for women and their physicians.

Women and physicians could be criminally charged, even imprisoned for some abortions, says Jen Jordan

Georgia Democrat Sen. Jen Jordan is a vocal opponent of Bill 481, which seeks to ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, at around 6 weeks into the pregnancy. (Senator Jen Jordan/Facebook)

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A Democratic senator in Georgia has condemned a new law that would ban abortion once the "heartbeat" of a fetus is detectable, arguing that its language isn't based in scientific fact and could spark unintended legal consequences for women and their physicians.

"What they're really trying to do is to invade the doctor-patient relationship and … insert their own opinions, whether that's law enforcement, whether they're political, whether they're religious kind of judgments into these incredibly personal decisions," Jen Jordan told As It Happens host Carol Off.

Bill 481, (pdf link) signed into law Tuesday by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp, would effectively ban the procedure around six weeks of pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant.

"It virtually outlaws abortion, you know, across the board," said Jordan.

Jordan says that at around six weeks, what has been described as a detectable heartbeat isn't exactly a heartbeat at all.

"It's fetal pole cardiac activity. It's kind of the beginnings of, you know, the mass of cells that will become a human body taken to full term," she explained.

Current law allows women in Georgia to seek an abortion during the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. If it's not blocked in court, the new ban would take effect Jan. 1.

Georgia's Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signs legislation on May 7, 2019 in Atlanta, banning abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as 6 weeks before many women know they're pregnant. (Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

The measure makes exceptions in the case of rape and incest — if the woman files a police report first — and to save the life of the mother. It also would allow for abortions when a fetus is determined not to be viable because of serious medical issues.

The legal director of the ACLU of Georgia, Sean Young, has said the measure is unconstitutional, and the group plans to challenge it in court.

'A bad policy across the board'

Jordan is particularly concerned about language in the bill that would recognize a fetus as a person, granting it the full rights of a person as such.

"It's opening a Pandora's Box, that I don't even know if we even understand the complete implications of it right now. But that's why it's just such a bad policy across the board," she said.

The bill provides provisions for alimony, child support, and even income tax deductions for fetuses, declaring that "the full value of a child begins at the point when a detectable human heartbeat exists."

This recognition could result in criminal prosecution for the mother, physician or anyone else deemed responsible for a miscarriage, she said.

Planned Parenthood Southeast's chief executive and president Staci Fox, centre, speaks in protest of Georgia's anti-abortion 'heartbeat' bill at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on May 7. (Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters)

"That's really what they're trying to set up here — this construct that once there is a fertilized egg, that really the woman becomes kind of secondary to that, and really is just a vessel," she said.

Jordan said she is also worried that the new law will push obstetricians away from practicing in Georgia, worsening health care outcomes for women in a state that already has one of the nation's worst maternal mortality rates.

Personal story of fertility, miscarriages

In her dissenting statement in the Georgia legislature, Jordan described her own painful experiences with fertility: out of 10 pregnancies, eight resulted in miscarriages.

"I may not be a physician, but I can tell you that, particularly in my life, I have seen what you call a heartbeat many times in pregnancies that did not result in viability or birth," she told Off.

Jordan struggled with sharing these intimate details of her private life, but felt it was critical that other senators hear it.

"I'm not just saying what someone else told me, or what I read. I am telling you what my own experience has been, and that is completely inconsistent with what you're asserting as scientific fact."

She admits being dismayed that the bill went through after her statement, particularly that none of the Republicans in the legislature changed their position.

"I really did share something incredibly personal, and it almost felt like a personal rebuke, to some extent," she said.

Michelle Disher, dressed as a handmaid from Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, attends the protest of the 'heartbeat' anti-abortion law in Atlanta on May 7. (Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters)

Jordan hopes the bill's signing will spur more women to run for office and get elected in the looming 2020 general elections.

"It just became clear that the men of the chamber — because that's who it is, they're men — really have no idea the implications of the law that they're passing."

"And it isn't just about abortion. This really is about women's autonomy and health-care decisions."

Georgia is the fourth state to sign "heartbeat" abortion laws into law in 2019, following Mississippi, Kentucky and Ohio.

Written by Jonathan Ore with files from The Associated Press. Interview with Jen Jordan produced by Allie Jaynes.