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Georgia banned abortions after six weeks, in most cases, almost immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. For Georgia women, that meant traveling hours out of state to obtain the procedure, with Florida and North Carolina being the closest states.

Tighter restrictions on Florida’s abortion law would decrease options for Georgia women

Apr 18, 2023

The Gist

Georgians seeking abortions beyond six weeks of pregnancy have fewer options and places to go now that Florida is set to place tighter restrictions on its abortion law, some worry.

Less than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last June, Georgia cleared the way for a 2019 state law banning most abortions after six weeks into pregnancy. And almost immediately,  Florida became the go-to alternative for Georgians and other Southerners living in states with restrictive abortion laws because it allowed abortions up to 15 weeks.

What’s Happening

That was then. This is now. 

Last week, Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that would limit abortions to six weeks — same as Georgia’s — with exceptions for rape, incest or human trafficking. 

Florida’s new law, however, is on hold while the state Supreme Court weighs a challenge to Florida’s current 15-week law. It’s unclear when the new law will take effect. In the meantime, the 15-week ban still stands.

“Any ban or restriction that's happening in any of our southern states is going to have a disproportionate effect on people in Georgia who are seeking to end a pregnancy,” Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, told State Affairs. “It’s just another governor quietly moving something into law in this very backhanded, closed-door kind of way.”

SisterSong is among organizations challenging Georgia’s heartbeat law in court. The law bans abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected, typically at six weeks — and before many women even know they’re pregnant.

In the 10 months since the high court overturned Roe v. Wade, the legal landscape on abortion and reproductive health care has dramatically shifted.

Thirteen states ban abortion entirely, and  12 others, including Georgia, now ban abortions after six weeks. Meanwhile, a battle is brewing over access to abortion drugs — a fight SCOTUS will weigh in on Wednesday when it will decide whether limits should be placed on the medication mifepristone (also known as “the abortion pill”), which the U.S. Food and Drug Administration defines as a drug that when used with another medication called misoprostol can end a pregnancy “through 10 weeks gestation.”

While abortion-rights groups concede the fight has become tougher in the last year, anti-abortion advocates are hailing the changes. 

Claire Bartlett, executive director of Georgia Life Alliance, said last year’s High Court decision puts decision-making power over issues such as abortion back in the hands of the states. “It restores our elected representatives to make legislation that is informed and best for their constituencies,” Bartlett told State Affairs.

And in the ensuing post-Roe months, “states are exerting their positions,” she added. “We  were delighted to see Florida move toward a position of life.”

The Supreme Court 2022 ruling triggered Georgia’s “heartbeat bill,” which had been tied up in litigation for three years before last year’s decision.

“We are working on a more restrictive time frame for sure. That’s a huge cut from the 20 weeks we were at before House Bill 481,” Simpson said, referring to the heartbeat law. “We’re trying to hold on to the states we can.  Across the South, unfortunately, we're just seeing such a regression.”

For Georgians seeking abortions, North Carolina, where you can get an abortion up to 20 weeks, remains an option, Simpson said. But no one knows for how long. Lawmakers in North Carolina have introduced seven abortion-related bills this session, ranging from further restricting abortions to abolishing it altogether. To date, none of the bills have advanced. 

Why It Matters

The abortion fight comes at a time when Georgians already face other health care challenges:

  • Georgia is one of 10 states that has not expanded Medicaid, a decision that’s blocking hundreds of thousands of low-income Georgians from getting much-needed health care coverage.

  • If you’re a Black woman, Georgia is a dangerous place to be because it has the highest maternal mortality rates for that segment of women.

  • In 2010, the last official count, 78 counties in Georgia had no ob/gyn doctor and 63 counties had no pediatrician.

“All these things are compounding and [working] against each other. They're all impacting the way people make decisions about their reproductive life,” Simpson said. “We've been watching this train come down the track for quite some time.” 

The fight, Simpson noted, has “moved from our statehouses into our courthouses. We’re having to fight at every level.”

For anti-abortion advocates, the fight has been well worth it.

The number of abortions nationwide plunged 96% –  and 71% in Georgia –  between July and December of last year, according to a report released last week by The Society of Family Planning. The report noted 5,377 fewer abortions were performed each month nationally in the six months after the SCOTUS decision.

Georgia saw 10,930 fewer abortions in the six months after the Roe ruling, the Society’s “WeCount” report noted. Georgia was second only to Texas in total declines in abortions. 

Some 317,000 abortions were performed in Georgia between 2010 and 2020, averaging around 28,000 abortions annually during that time, according to state health data.

In the days after last year's Supreme Court decision, people “were scared of being criminalized,” Simpson said. “We had to do a lot of work educating people around what [the decision] really means. And reassuring people that ‘you still have access.’”

But that access is likely to be costly.

Costs for abortion pills and surgery vary. The website for Community Pregnancy Center of Lake Norman near Charlotte, North Carolina, lists services ranging from $350 to $650 for abortion pills and up to $2,100 for a dilation and evacuation abortion for a pregnancy that is 17 to 21 weeks along.

What’s Next?

Right now, there’s a lot of waiting going on.

Florida’s waiting on word from its state Supreme Court. Here in Georgia, plaintiffs such as SisterSong are waiting to hear the Georgia Supreme Court ruling on the state’s six-week ban and whether that will remain in place. The court recently heard oral arguments on the matter. A ruling is not likely for several months.

But all eyes will be on SCOTUS’ ruling, expected Wednesday. Even in states where abortion is legal, a medication abortion using mifepristone would now require three in-person office visits, the supervision of a qualified physician and would be available only up to seven weeks of pregnancy.

You can reach Tammy Joyner on Twitter @lvjoyner or at [email protected]. Joyner is State Affairs’ senior investigative reporter in Georgia. A Georgia transplant, she has lived in the Peach State for nearly 30 years.


Header image: Georgia banned abortions after six weeks, in most cases, almost immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. For Georgia women, that meant traveling hours out of state to obtain the procedure, with Florida and North Carolina being the closest states. (Credit: Brittney Phan for State Affairs)