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Few Abortions Once Performed in Georgia Would Be Eligible Today

A study found that of the abortions in the state over the last 11 years, only 9 percent of those pregnancies would have met the 6-week cutoff under the new state law that took effect in July 2022.

Gov. Brian Kemp signed HB 481, the "heartbeat bill", on Tuesday
Surrounded by supporters of the bill, including Sen. Renee Unterman (from left), R - Buford, Lt. Gov. Geoff Duncan, First Lady Marty Kemp, and House Speaker David Ralston, Gov. Brian Kemp signed HB 481, the "heartbeat bill", on Tuesday, setting the stage for a legal battle as the state attempts to outlaw most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ed Setlzer, R-Acworth, and carried in the Senate by Sen. Renee Unterman, R - Buford, outlaws most abortions once a doctor can detect a fetus' heartbeat - usually around six weeks of pregnancy.
Bob Andres/TNS
(TNS) — Based on a look back at 11 years of abortions in Georgia, a new study has found only 9 percent of those pregnancies would have met the new 6-week cutoff for an abortion under the new state law that took effect in July 2022, according to a study released Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The findings also show a disproportionate number of teenagers and Black patients are likely being affected.

Until now, no one has really known what the law’s result would be, though a significant impact seemed obvious.

“It’s the best estimate that we have so far,” said Sara Redd, an assistant professor at Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health and the study’s lead author. “When we’ve spoken about this to people on the ground, providing abortion care, they have said that it is reflective of what they’ve been seeing as well.”

It’s important information for those on all sides of the abortion debate, because of what data show to be the perilous state of health resources that await many pregnant Georgians, Redd said.

What the Law Does

Georgia’s “heartbeat bill” applies to a embryo before it has a heart. According to obstetrics specialists, at about six weeks of gestation, an embryo has a tiny tube that will eventually become part of a heart. That tube starts to flutter at about six weeks, and modern ultrasound machines augment the flutter with a sound that doctors and patients can hear. Scientists call the flutter cardiac activity.

After that activity starts, abortion becomes illegal under Georgia law. Georgia legislators passed the law in 2019 but it didn’t go into effect until the U.S. Supreme Court decision green-lighted it last June by overturning the national law established by Roe v. Wade.

What the New JAMA Study Found

By looking at 360,972 abortions performed in the decade from 2007 to 2017 — before Georgia’s law was adopted — the researchers were able to project how the law would likely have played out among those patients. They found that an estimated 9 percent of all patients would likely have been eligible to still go forward under the new law, and the rest, about 29,900 patients per year over those 10 years, would be stymied by the law. The study didn’t estimate how many of those abortions would still have taken place in another state.

The researchers delved deeper into the most recent two years, 2016 and 2017. In those two years, the anticipated percentage overall of abortions eligible to occur was 12 percent, as a larger portion of abortions happened within the six-week period. The overall percent ineligible would have been 88 percent.

The percentage of ineligible abortions was higher for teenagers, for Black patients, and for patients with less than a high school diploma. Whereas 83.8 percent of white patients would have been ineligible for their Georgia abortion, 90.4 percent of Black patients would have. A full 90.1 percent of patients under 20 years of age would not have secured an abortion in Georgia, nor would 90.8 percent of those without a high school diploma.

What It Means

The findings suggest that Georgia’s law limiting abortion to early pregnancy would eliminate access to abortion for a huge number of patients in Georgia “across the board,” Redd said, not only Georgia residents but patients from surrounding states who used to come to Georgia for abortions. But the impact disproportionately affects patients who are Black, younger, and in lower socioeconomic status groups, the study said.

For those who want women and their families to have healthy family lives, with or without the pregnancy, the data are a bad sign, Redd said. The same populations more likely to be blocked from abortion here are the same most likely to be unable to get access to other kinds of health care, including the kinds of health care women need all their lives to be healthy and survive pregnancy.

“It’s very intertwined,” Redd said. Those patients blocked from abortions here are “also living in a state where half of counties don’t have an OB-GYN. So this is like the real intersection of where healthcare service delivery issues can really come to to the forefront.

“There’s a lot of literature showing that restrictive settings and these kinds of restrictive abortion policies can actually lead to increases in things like maternal mortality and infant mortality and other types of adverse birth outcomes,” she said.

©2023 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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