Few things are as personal as our freedom to decide when to have children–or more precious than the safety and health of our families. But in these unsettled times, the ability to safeguard these basic rights and protections is under attack.
Unfortunately, many of our elected officials are part of that problem. In 2019, state legislators presumed to appropriate these personal decisions for themselves, passing a law to ban nearly all abortions in Georgia – even though 70 percent of Georgians polled at that time didn’t want more restrictions. Then in 2022, after the overturn of Roe, the state began enforcing this ban; now we are seven months into the post-Roe world and the worsened access crisis is felt by many.
That’s why the Reproductive Freedom Act (RFA), which was introduced in the Georgia State Legislature but never received even one committee hearing, is so important. The 1973 federal standard of Roe v. Wade is no longer in place as a minimum safeguard of abortion rights; the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe just months before what would have been its 50th anniversary. That means each state now has the power and responsibility to spell out its residents’ reproductive rights. Passing the RFA would have made the best medical standards and compassionate, dignified health care available to us all in Georgia.
Whether we live in small towns, rural communities, or larger cities, no matter our race or religion, our age or income level, we all deserve the freedom to make our most intimate life decisions with the people we love and the health care providers we trust. We do not want the interference of politicians, the threat of criminalization, or the religious beliefs of others to snatch those personal choices from us; and yet without movement on this bill that’s exactly what is happening.
The Reproductive Freedom Act puts the right to privacy and personal agency for reproductive health back with us, where it belongs. The bill affirms the rights of individuals to make their own decisions about whether or not to continue a pregnancy. It knocks down systemic barriers to care, reduces delays in care (and time is always critical in pregnancy), and takes state-mandated misinformation out of the abortion care experience. These measures would create a stronger path to better health, and allow more space and respect for the complex decisions involved to protect the physical and mental health of people throughout their pregnancies. The bill also would allow more insurance plans, including those under the Affordable Care Act and Medicaid, to provide abortion coverage–a necessity to address the deeply disproportionate impact of abortion prohibitions on those who are least able to bear the cost or seek alternate care at distant locations.
As leaders in the campaign for a Reproductive Freedom Act, we have seen that both restrictive legislation and lack of access to medical care wreak havoc with people’s lives. In Atlanta, at least some medical and community infrastructure exists to help people identify their options and navigate the system. But a lot of our state is much more rural, pocketed with virtual medical deserts, communities where there may not be a single OB-GYN or other professionals to provide care during a pregnancy–a dearth affecting half of Georgia’s 159 counties. We have met people in Macon in the earliest weeks of their pregnancy, who have to travel more than 80 miles for basic care. Beyond the first six weeks of pregnancy, Georgians needing abortion care now need to travel to Florida, South Carolina, or Virginia, journeys that take not just a financial but an emotional toll in circumstances that are already taxing. That inflicts a special burden on those who may lack transportation or who are working two jobs to make ends meet, without paid sick time to cover a day away from work. As is too often the case, people of limited means and women of color bear the brunt of these multiple inequities.
Recently, we reached out one-on-one to community members in Savannah, to learn their views on reproductive care, including access to abortion. Pregnant people in Savannah can typically find only one kind of abortion care, medication abortion using pills, at the local Planned Parenthood, the only clinic left in town; for other options, they must make the four-hour, 248-mile trek to Atlanta or travel out of state. Even with its limited services, Savannah is the only place where people from the surrounding rural communities can access care. Many of the people we spoke with reached for the clipboard to sign their support for the Reproductive Freedom Act before we even had time to finish our introductions. Others wanted to see Savannah become a “haven” for reproductive services, making medically accurate information and safe treatment more broadly available.
Access to the full range of reproductive health care allows us all to create the present and the future that we need, to create families on our own terms, and to choose what’s right for us and those we love, in safe and healthy environments. It’s as central to our individual and community well-being as clean air and water, decent housing, and sufficient food.
The Reproductive Freedom Act was introduced this month with the backing of over 40 House Representatives and 19 Senators. We need more lawmakers like these, who respect the lives of Georgia’s citizens with policies that meet our needs, protect our health, and align with our values. We cannot afford to think we deserve any less.
The Reproductive Freedom Act shows that we are not afraid to dream as big as we deserve, to give abortion and reproductive health their proper place as part of the infrastructure to nurture our families and to support each other. It offers an abundant vision of who we are, and of what Georgia can be: A beacon of thoughtful governance and compassionate care. A place where all of us are free to live healthy and fulfilling lives, and to thrive.
Kristen Baker is the Grassroots Organizing Coordinator at the Feminist Women’s Health Center, a not-for-profit clinic and community center in Atlanta that provides abortion care and other health services.
Ukwuoma Ukairo is the Caller Engagement Coordinator at Access Reproductive Care – Southeast, an abortion fund supporting callers in Georgia, Alabama, South Carolina, Florida, Mississippi, and Tennessee. ARC-Southeast is the only organization of its kind in Georgia.