Just now, politicians in Georgia voted to ban abortion after six weeks. Georgia is now the third state to pass this harmful restriction this month. (Fifteen states have filed similar bans in this legislative session alone.) You don’t have to look far to understand just how these introduced abortion bans—up by 63 percent in states in 2019—affect real people.
Jennifer, a Planned Parenthood patient in Georgia in her early forties, told us that after she’d missed a period, she knew immediately she was pregnant. Jennifer didn’t wait. She called a nearby health center to schedule her abortion. But the medically unnecessary restrictions that limited the number of providers and available appointment times delayed her care by weeks. Despite knowing she was pregnant just after a missed period and deciding she wanted an abortion immediately, by the time Jennifer received care, she was eight weeks pregnant.
Imagine if this were any other aspect of medicine. Imagine if your ability to receive treatment was limited by when you were diagnosed with the condition. Chances are you wouldn’t even know you had the condition by the time it was too late to receive the treatment that you wanted. And if you did get diagnosed in time, you might still have to travel hundreds of miles, find childcare, get time off from work, and face protesters—just to receive that medical care.
That’s what happens to women in need of abortion access in places like Georgia. These six-week abortion bans affect many women before they know they’re pregnant. Even if they are one of the rare few—like Jennifer—who know earlier than six weeks, these women still find it almost impossible to access an abortion within that time frame. These bans fundamentally infringe upon a person’s right to bodily autonomy.
We’re under three months into the 2019 state legislative session, and at least one disturbing trend has emerged: Anti-women’s health politicians have doubled down on their efforts to take away the right to safe, legal abortion. Already, more than 250 bills have been filed that directly restrict abortion access, and nearly half of those restrictions have been abortion bans—outright attempts to prohibit people from making their own health care decisions.
Politicians are directly interfering with medical practice and endangering women’s lives. We know this statistic, but it bears a repeat mention: Abortion is a safe, legal medical procedure that nearly in one in four women will have in their lifetimes, and it’s part of the full spectrum of reproductive health care. We are at an all-time low for unintended pregnancies because of birth control and evidence-based sex education. Politicians wishing to reduce unintended pregnancies and the need for abortion should invest in women’s health. Instead, their actions directly go against public health and public will. We know the cost: It’s women’s lives.
At Planned Parenthood, we see the effects of these attacks firsthand. In the last eight years, there have been over 420 laws passed that directly restrict abortion access. These harmful laws have shuttered health centers and turned entire regions of the country into abortion deserts. Women are forced to travel hundreds of miles for health care, and those who cannot—women who can’t afford the travel, who can’t find childcare and time off from work, who live in rural communities without access, who are often people of color—will just go without. In fact, people in six states have only one abortion provider left, exacerbating an already challenging landscape for reproductive health care.
We know what happens when politicians cut access to vital health care services; patients delay care or go without it. When Texas eliminated Planned Parenthood from its family planning program, 30,000 fewer women accessed health care. In Iowa, when four health centers closed, 12,000 people went without care and the rates of STIs skyrocketed. A recent study from Texas showed when the state enacted abortion restrictions, it didn’t end abortion care in the state. The restrictions just meant delayed care and increased the number of second-trimester abortions.