As Abortion Bans Spread, Hollywood Debates How to Protest Them

Some are boycotting Georgia after it passed a "heartbeat" bill last week. Others argue there are better ways to protect abortion rights.
by | May 16, 2019 AT 4:59 PM
Actress Alyssa Milano at a news conference inside a government building.
Actress Alyssa Milano is one of the celebrities who urged the film industry to boycott Georgia over the "heartbeat" bill. (AP/John Bazemore)

SPEED READ:

  • Five production companies are boycotting Georgia after it passed a "heartbeat" bill.
  • Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams still plan to film "Lovecraft County" in the state but will donate some proceeds to groups challenging the law.
  • Seven states passed laws this year to ban most abortions.
  • Louisiana and Missouri could be next.
 

Within a week of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signing one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country, some Hollywood leaders are following through on their threats to boycott the state.

Five production companies -- Killer Films, Blown Deadline Productions, Duplass Brothers Productions, Colorforce and CounterNarrative -- announced they will not film in the state, which has become a prime location for major films and TV shows, including AMC's “The Walking Dead,” Netflix's “Stranger Things,” the FX show “Atlanta” and a series of Marvel superhero blockbusters.

Meanwhile, Kemp postponed a trip to Los Angeles meant to promote film and TV in Georgia. His office says he’s rescheduled for the fall.

At issue is the state's new ban on abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which happens as early as six weeks into a pregnancy and before many women know they're pregnant. Georgia is part of a wave of conservative states enacting extreme and controversial restrictions on abortion in an attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 court case guaranteeing the right to abortion.

Before the Republican governor signed the so-called heartbeat bill, dozens of big-name celebrities urged him to veto it -- or suffer the economic consequences. The state claims the film industry is responsible for 92,000 jobs in Georgia. In 2018, 455 productions filmed there, with an estimated economic impact of $9.5 billion.

For now, though, the new abortion law isn’t significantly undermining “the Hollywood of the South.”

Georgia officials note that neither Blown Deadline Productions nor Duplass Brothers Productions has ever filmed in their state. According to the Associated Press, “none of the major film or television studios have commented on the issue or altered production plans” in the week after the heartbeat bill became law. Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams still plan to film their HBO show "Lovecraft County" in Georgia in the coming weeks, taking a cue from Stacey Abrams, the Democrat who fell just short of defeating Kemp in the governor's race in November.

Abrams tweeted on Wednesday, “I respect the call for a boycott on Georgia, but I do not believe it is the most effective, strategic choice for change.” Instead, Abrams argued, Hollywood should help her “raise an army of resistance that wins in the courts and at the ballot. ... We are placed in the unique position to fund [Republicans'] defeat by investing in ... more progressive voices becoming Georgia voters, more activists and providers funded by entertainment’s explosion, more women rising up to claim their rights.”

Abrams and Peele said they "stand with Stacey Abrams ... and will donate 100% of our respective episodic fees for this season to two organizations leading the charge against this draconian law: the ACLU of Georgia and Fair Fight Georgia," a group founded by Abrams.

For its part, the Motion Picture Association of America is urging a wait-and-see approach.

“It is important to remember that similar legislation has been attempted in other states, and has either been enjoined by the courts or is currently being challenged,” the organization said in a statement. 

As The New York Times reported, Georgia and six other states -- including Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Utah -- passed laws this year to ban abortions in most cases. Just this week, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill that makes it a felony for doctors to perform abortions in almost every case, including rape and incest. On Wednesday, lawmakers in Louisiana and Missouri advanced similar bills.

“This has been the most active legislative year in recent memory,” Steven Aden, general counsel of Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion group, told The New York Times.

The momentum is largely being driven by Brett Kavanaugh's confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court last fall, which gave the justices a conservative majority and increased the chances of Roe v. Wade being undone.

Graham Vyse | Staff Writer