As the Supreme Court prepares to rule on June Medical Services v. Russo, a case with major implications for abortion care nationwide, I’m reminded of what was happening in my state at this time a year ago.
Anti-abortion politicians in the state legislature had just passed a near-total abortion ban that would prohibit care before most people know they’re pregnant, and Gov. Brian Kemp signed the ban into law soon after.
Despite how this ban was soon blocked by a federal judge, its impact — stigma, shame, and confusion — persists, as clinics are routinely inundated with calls about whether abortion is even legal. And across my state, even without the near-total ban, several restrictions not unlike the Louisiana law the Supreme Court is considering have pushed care out of reach for too many of us.
Even though the Supreme Court is weighing on a law coming from Louisiana, abortion restrictions and massive, systemic barriers to care pose a nationwide problem — and one that Georgians have been struggling with for years.
Ninety-five percent of counties in Georgia lack an abortion provider, compared with 90 percent of all US counties, all while the state requires mandatory waiting periods and counseling, restricts insurance coverage of abortion care, and also restricts abortion throughout pregnancy. None of us should be blocked from making decisions about our bodies and families without shame and coercion, but in Georgia and too many other states, that’s not the case.
As a state representative in Georgia, protecting and expanding abortion care has been a high priority through my time in the legislature. From voting against dangerous bans, to introducing a bill to waive burdensome and stigmatizing restrictions and my “Testicular Bill of Rights” — I’m in this fight for the long-haul. My “Testicular Bill of Rights” was among the first of its kind, because it deliberately mirrored many restrictions on women’s reproductive health care with the tables on men. For example, it imposed waiting periods and partner consent laws on men seeking sexual health care.
The damage of anti-abortion laws in Georgia shows us what’s at stake if the Supreme Court permits the admitting privilege law in Louisiana to continue. That’s why I and more than 200 other state legislators and local elected officials joined together to sign an open letter, promising to protect abortion care and reproductive freedom in our communities.
Per some estimates, Georgia has the highest maternal mortality rate in the nation, in no small part due to the tremendous barriers tied to abortion and other essential reproductive health care in my state. Research has shown states with more restrictions on abortion care have higher maternal mortality rates. Despite how politicians often justify restrictions on care with feigned concern for women’s health and safety, it’s clear these restrictions actually put patients in greater danger.
This upcoming Supreme Court decision on abortion comes at a particularly urgent moment for our country, as the COVID-19 pandemic has created a mass public health and economic crisis. The existing restrictions and barriers to care have only been worsened by the strain the pandemic has placed on our health care system, and significantly worsened cost barriers for those impacted by the pandemic’s economic fallout.
It’s never been more critical that advocates organize, build power in their communities, and call on their representatives to lift these restrictions and protect reproductive health care. While the looming Supreme Court decision carries a great impact on Louisiana, Georgia, and the entire nation, people and communities — not courts and politicians — hold the most power to inspire and create change.
As a state legislator in Georgia, I’m as tired of this seemingly endless fight for our most basic human rights as the rest of us. But no matter the outcome, I know this Supreme Court case is just the beginning for our fight for reproductive freedom for all. This fight will continue until every one of us — in Georgia and across the country — can reach the care we need to thrive.
Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick is a member of the Georgia state legislature representing the 93rd district.