Fault Lines travelled to Alabama and Georgia, two states that passed the most extreme bans, to meet architects of the bills and legislators, clinics and patients on the front lines, and reproductive justice advocates fighting the bans in court.
These new laws are part of a strategy to instigate a challenge to Roe v Wade, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalised abortion in 1973. Behind them is an emboldened anti-abortion movement that seeks to ban the procedure by granting legal rights to the unborn: fetuses, embryos, and fertilised eggs.
“If medical science can prove that the unborn child is a person then it gets the rights under the constitution,” says Eric Johnston, an anti-abortion lawyer who wrote Alabama’s abortion ban.
“Fetal personhood” has already been used to justify hundreds of criminal and civil cases against women.
Since 1973, more than 1,200 women have been arrested or detained in connection with their pregnancies and charged with a variety of crimes including murder. We meet one Alabama mother who was held in jail after giving birth for using cannabis while pregnant to control her epilepsy seizures.
“The nomination and appointment of [Justice Brett] Kavanaugh is deeply disturbing,” says Lynn Paltrow, executive director of The National Advocates for Pregnant Women, “not only because of the risk that Roe v Wade would be overturned and abortion might be re-criminalised, but the much larger implications of all that, which is that women will go to jail.”
Reproductive rights advocates fear that these new bans could open a Pandora’s box for pregnant women, stripping them of basic rights, not just to abortion, but to medical decision-making and bodily autonomy.
Georgia Rep Renitta Shannon opposed the ban saying she knew it would “create a new pathway to criminalise black and brown women”. She calls the law a policy of “forced birthing for women”.