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Georgia’s heartbeat law raises privacy, medical concerns, some advocates say
ATLANTA – Georgia’s abortion law is raising health and privacy concerns among patients and doctors, abortions-rights activists said this week after a federal court upheld the state’s ban on most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.  
But proponents of the new law say those concerns are overblown.
The law – initially passed in the 2019 legislative session – bans abortions after fetal cardiac activity can be detected, usually around six weeks of pregnancy. It redefines “a natural person” to include “an unborn child.”  It also changes some aspects of Georgia’s income tax, child support, civil and criminal laws.  
The legislation amounts to a new definition of “personhood,” said Anthony Michael Kreis, an assistant law professor at Georgia State University.
“By changing the legal definition of person, Georgia’s extreme law has introduced an entirely new legal regime in the state that alters the meaning of every single civil and criminal law in the Georgia code,” Kreis said.  
“Will women be investigated for miscarriages? Will women be subjected to the threats and whims of abusive partners who report them for miscarriages or abortions out of state and sue them out of spite?”  
Dr. Nisha Verma, an obstetrician and gynecologist, said the law introduces greater uncertainty over how doctors should handle medical emergencies.
“It’s often unclear to us as doctors when we can legally intervene and take care of the person in front of us,” Verma said.
Opponents of the new law also raised privacy concerns.  
“Without clarity, the new abortion law risks breaking down the confidential, private nature of the doctor-patient relationship, which is so essential for people to get the health care that they directly need,” Kreis said.
“I think a lot of women in Georgia are going to be more nervous about keeping a regular track of their menstrual cycles – and avoiding apps or other digital databases to do so – to make sure they are not pregnant unknowingly. I also suspect some couples and pregnant folks will keep news about pregnancies more hush-hush if there is any substantial risk that something goes wrong.”
The new law includes a few exceptions, such as medical emergencies, rape, or incest.  
It allows abortions before 20 weeks of pregnancy in the case of rape or incest, if an official police report has been filed, a provision that has drawn the ire of abortion-rights activists.  
“The ban requires victims of rape or incest to involve law enforcement in their health-care decision as a condition of ending a pregnancy,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia.  
But the law’s supporters say fears about the new law are exaggerated and embrace its new definition of personhood.  
“Personhood … is extremely important because we are the first in the country to get this passed and  … upheld,” said Martha Zoller, executive director of the Georgia Life Alliance. “[The law] doesn’t ban care for ectopic pregnancies. It doesn’t criminalize miscarriage. … It doesn’t prosecute women.”
The law allows pregnant women to claim child support from the father of an unborn child, Zoller said.   
Women in Georgia who find themselves unexpectedly pregnant still have options, including adoption, she said.
“Don’t feel like the life community is not going to embrace you and help you along the way,” Zoller said. “There are options, and it shouldn’t only be the abortion option that is discussed.” 
Zeller pointed to a law the General Assembly passed this year that allows nonprofits to set up homes for pregnant women and new mothers. The first home for mothers just opened, she said. 
Zoller said the Georgia Life Alliance has no plans to lobby against birth control or for a total abortion ban in Georgia.  
Rather, the organization will focus on increasing regulations around medication abortions in the next legislative session, she said.
The group of plaintiffs – which includes SisterSong, the ACLU, and Planned Parenthood Southeast –   filed a lawsuit in state court Tuesday claiming the heartbeat law violates the Georgia Constitution’s privacy protections. They have requested a hearing next week, when they will ask the judge to temporarily block the law.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.