The state Capitol hasn’t experienced a major confrontation over abortion in five years.
That’s about to change. And this time, passions will be stoked even higher by the volatile issue of race.
Last month, dozens of billboards went up in African-American communities across metro Atlanta. On them, a toddler’s face appeared with this stark message: “Black children are an endangered species.”
The operating theory espoused by the billboard sponsors: Abortion clinics have targeted black women for the sake of both profit and eugenics. Catherine Davis, director of minority outreach for Georgia Right to Life, points to a lack of abortion clinics in Atlanta’s suburbs.
“If it is not a deliberate attempt to control the birthrate of the African-American community, then in my mind, you’d have at least one clinic in a non-urban area,” said Davis, who is African-American.
The February billboards were followed by legislation. As currently drafted, HB 1155 would make it a 10-year felony for a physician to perform an abortion if a patient discloses that she seeks the procedure because of objections to the race or gender of the fetus.
The physician and clinic staff would also be exposed to criminal prosecution, and civil suits, if the woman seeks the abortion because of “coercion.” Remember that word — we’ll come back to it.
Opponents of the bill don’t deny that African-American women resort to abortion more often than white or Hispanic women. Nor do they deny that race is involved. But they believe less in conspiracies and more in the impact of poverty, poor education and lack of access to proper health care.
State Rep. Stacey Abrams (D-Atlanta), who is also African-American, described HB 1155 as “legally insufficient, morally reprehensible and factually questionable.”
Georgia State University law professor Lynn Hogue, asked to examine the bill by Planned Parenthood, an organization that supports abortion rights, warned lawmakers last week that a woman’s reason for seeking abortion was “constitutionally irrelevant.”
Moreover, Hogue said that the legislation is likely to have an unintended effect.
“Although the bill is grounded in racial disparity,” he said, “whites are unlikely ever to be targeted by this law. But African-American women are almost certain to be targeted. It will foster and justify discrimination based on race, something Georgia has tried to leave behind it.”
Over the past few sessions of the Legislature, Georgia Right to Life — a primary backer of HB 1155 — has become the most high-profile anti-abortion group at the Capitol, and the most persistent.
Fights over abortion, whether here or elsewhere, have often been clashes between white liberals and white conservatives. But a focus on race gives GRTL the opportunity to draw on the cultural conservatism of many African-Americans. A similar approach by Christian conservatives resulted in the 2004 passage by the Legislature of a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage.
But at the same time that GRTL is attempting to expand an anti-abortion alliance, other members of the coalition have been breaking away.
At a Wednesday hearing of the House Special Judiciary Committee, state Rep. Bobby Franklin (R-Cobb County), a reliable supporter of anti-abortion efforts, condemned the bill as a backhanded endorsement of abortion.
He had already denounced HB 1155 in a YouTube video posted earlier this month, calling it a “fund-raising tool” of the “pro-life industry.”
“If you’re murdering the little black girl because of convenience, because of economics, for birth control, for whatever reason, it’s OK with this bill. How they call this pro-life is beyond me,” Franklin said in the video.
At the same hearing, state Rep. Sharon Cooper (R-Marietta), who helped write the last major piece of anti-abortion legislation debated and passed in 2005, wondered how a physician was to judge whether a woman was being “coerced” into an abortion.
“I disagree with people, being a nurse, [who think] that pregnancy makes you somehow incapable of making rational decisions about yourself,” Cooper said.
HB 1155 passed out of committee on a 7-6 vote. Cooper refused to vote, as did state Rep. Randal Mangham, a Democrat from Decatur. Franklin voted no.
The bill was sent to the House Rules Committee, which on Thursday rejected it, sending the measure back to the committee from whence it came for more work.
After a conversation with House Speaker David Ralston on Friday, the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Cassville), said the bill was still on track for a House floor vote.
“We want to make sure that the bill is so narrowly written that it’s truly a philosophic debate,” Loudermilk said. “Should it be legal to determine whether or not a child comes into this world because of their race, color or gender? Should it be legal to abort a child because it’s a girl and you wanted a boy?”
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