This year, there has been an unprecedented surge in state lawmakers trying to ban abortions before most people even know they’re pregnant — but no state has gotten as much national attention as Georgia. Activists credit Stacey Abrams as a big reason why.
Georgia’s House Bill 481 would ban abortion at six weeks. It’s surprised many people that the state, which has 10 abortion clinics in Atlanta alone, would revert from a 20-week ban to a near-total ban, devastating access in the South. The bill gives status to an embryo and criminalizes providers and women and gender minorities seeking abortion. And Gov. Brian Kemp (R) — who defeated Abrams in an election fraught with voter suppression — promises to sign the bill into law should it pass the House on Friday.
Abrams has vowed to continue to fight Kemp as a private citizen, and her opposition to the 6-week ban is a great example. Abrams, with 433,000 followers on Twitter alone, has repeatedly decried the dangers of HB 481 on social media.
Today, HB 481—effectively banning abortion in GA—passed out of committee on a party & gender line vote. Every male senator on #GaSciTechCmte voted for the bill.
— Stacey Abrams (@staceyabrams) March 18, 2019
“We benefited from a very public and powerful governor’s race with Stacey Abrams,” said Monica Simpson, executive director of the women of color reproductive justice group SisterSong. “Her influence, not only as running for governor but her political journey in our state, makes her a voice that people follow and listen to.”
The outcry is effective. Though it’s hard to draw a direct line of causation, since Abrams first spoke out about HB 481, Coca-Cola and Amazon executives sent a letter to Georgia lawmakers opposing the bill. The Writers Guild of America (WGA) commented on an abortion restriction for the first time ever, warning Republicans that Hollywood production crews would leave the state if the “draconian, anti-choice measure” becomes law. Actress Alyssa Milano also prompted dozens of actors to speak out against the bill.
Of course, reproductive rights and justice activists have been doing the ground work, meeting, for example, with local business leaders to describe the bill’s harms to Georgians. Abrams merely elevated this, making it harder to ignore.
If you can get to the State Capitol tomorrow, WE NEED YOU. Let’s flood the halls so they can’t ignore us. #PissedOffPeaches #HB481 #NoAbortionBanGa #gapol #HB481isBadForBusiness pic.twitter.com/SL1HNVAv1C
— Marisa (@marisapk) March 29, 2019
Well the House just adjourned for the day, Thursday session has come and gone, and #HB481 never came up. That means IT’S WORKING!
— Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates (@PPSE_Advocates) March 28, 2019
Similar bills in Kentucky and Mississippi — both currently tied up in court — didn’t get nearly the same amount of attention.
The bill’s author, Rep. Ed Setzler (R), admitted support is wavering with some Republicans saying they’ll have a “bellyache” over voting in favor of his measure.
“It’s been great to have someone like Stacey Abrams use her platform to give visibility to this bill,” said Quita Tinsley, deputy director at Access Reproductive Care-Southeast.
“I think what we are seeing with Stacey Abrams is, first and foremost, she’s a black woman who’s from the South, who’s from Mississippi, who’s in Georgia and held political office in Georgia — so I think if anyone knows the gravity of these bills and the lack of access in the South, someone like Stacey Abrams does,” Tinsley added.
But when she talks about the six-week ban, Abrams takes a big picture approach. Not only are Republicans pushing through an extreme anti-abortion bill, but these same lawmakers are making it especially hard to parent, Abrams noted. They refuse to expand Medicaid (the program that pays for over half of all births in Georgia) or address the state’s maternal mortality crisis (where for every 100,000 births, 62 black women die due to pregnancy complications).
It’s the same rhetoric that resonated with voters during the gubernatorial race and thereafter.
“No one ever talks about reproductive justice in their political platforms but she did running for governor. It speaks to how we need more, not only women of color in office but, folks from the South who are actually from communities who can speak to these issues,” said Tinsley.
It’s also a framework championed by activists.
“I think she has learned from us and is paying attention to us,” Simpson told ThinkProgress, adding she was especially pleased when Abrams, during her State of the Union rebuttal, talked about reproductive justice, a term coined in 1994 that means providing people bodily autonomy, whether someone plans to have children or not.
“It’s obviously reached more Georgians and more people interested in preserving women’s right to choose than if I or some other legislature did it because of her high profile so it definitely spotlighted it a lot more and got more momentum around it — and that’s exactly what we need, a light shed on how horrible this bill is,” Georgia Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick (D) said of Abrams.
A new generation of politicians are elevating conversations activists have been having for a while, including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) on environmental racism and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) on pro-Israel lobbying in Congress.
But few high-profile politicians elevate a statewide abortion restriction the way Abrams does. Politicians generally tweet about abortion in the context of Roe v. Wade being at risk — an accurate view, certainly, but one that ignores that abortion is already a meaningless right for a lot of people as state lawmakers chip away at it. Compare what Abrams is doing to Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’ Rourke, for example, who has 1.38 million followers, but hasn’t tweeted about abortion since 2017.
Support is critical when reproductive justice activists could face yet another setback. Activists have been visiting the Georgia State House almost every day in March, underscoring what’s at stake if the House sends the governor a ban that will undoubtedly be challenged and blocked in federal court.
“It’s letting us know that we live in a state where the lives of women, pregnant people are not a priority to the legislature — that’s what they are saying, that’s what our governor who is holding the highest office in the state right now, that’s what he’s saying, and that is disheartening,” said Simpson.
“We know, when we do, who suffers the most: It’s communities of color, marginalized folks; it’s working class folks who rely on systems of support and rely on lawmakers to be be implementing laws that make their lives better, not cutting them off,” she added.