What the Media Is Getting Wrong About the Georgia ‘Heartbeat’ Ban

Georgia’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp signed a so-called “heartbeat” abortion ban on May 6, following the lead of Missouri, Mississippi, Ohio and Kentucky in banning abortions at five to six weeks into a pregnancy — just one or two weeks after a missed period and before many people may have verified they are even pregnant.

Despite the fact that these near-total bans have moved from the fringe right to a “mainstream” position and continue to be proposed and passed at record speed, the media still acts confused by the process and the impact of the bans themselves.

Here are three major mistakes the media is making about the newest “heartbeat” ban:

1. Abortion isn’t currently “illegal” in Georgia.

Yes, Kemp has ceremoniously signed the newest ban into law. But despite the CBS News headline’s proclamation, abortion will not “now be illegal in Georgia.”

First off, signing the bill does make it law, but it isn’t going into effect immediately. In fact, the new law won’t even be enforced until January 1, 2020 more than half a year away.

And that assumes that the courts even allow the ban to be implemented.

As of this time, not even one state that has signed a “heartbeat” ban into law has been allowed to enforce that law. Iowa, North Dakota, Arkansas and Kentucky all had their bills enjoined by courts for being unconstitutional.

With such a strong precedent already in place, it is very unlikely that Georgia would see a different result — at least not before making it to the Supreme Court.

But when the media mistakenly reports as if abortion is already illegal because the bill was signed into law, people stop seeking care, often having no idea if clinics are operating or not. These facilities are still providing abortions, and the media needs to be sure that people know that.

2. This won’t lead to a national abortion ban.

CBS isn’t the only outlet publishing woefully misleading headlines. According to a writer at Good, “Georgia passed an abortion bill so extreme it may lead to a national ban.” But that’s just utterly and patently false.

Even if the bill was allowed to go into effect, that would impact Georgia alone — not the entire nation. While this bill could potentially force the Supreme Court to revisit Roe v. Wade, it still would do nothing to make abortion illegal nationwide.

The Roe v. Wade ruling states that a pregnant person has a constitutional right to an abortion and, because of that fact, no state can make abortion completely illegal. A reversal of Roe doesn’t make abortion illegal across the U.S. Instead, it would return the decision to each state in the nation, and each one of those states would then decide whether to make abortion legal, illegal, or legal under certain circumstances and illegal under others.

There’s essentially no scenario in which the Supreme Court could rule that abortion is now federally banned; that would require either a bill from Congress or a federal constitutional amendment ratified by three-quarters of the states.

3. No one will be charged with conspiracy to commit murder for leaving the state for an abortion.

But perhaps the most harmful media error out there is the idea that a person who helps someone leave the state in order to obtain an abortion could be thrown in jail for that effort. According to Mark Joseph Stern at Slate:

Even women who seek lawful abortions out of state may not escape punishment. If a Georgia resident plans to travel elsewhere to obtain an abortion, she may be charged with conspiracy to commit murder, punishable by 10 years’ imprisonment. An individual who helps a woman plan her trip to get an out-of-state abortion, or transports her to the clinic, may also be charged with conspiracy. These individuals, after all, are ‘conspiring’ to end of the life of a ‘person’ with ‘full legal recognition’ under Georgia law.

Stern’s argument hinges on the idea that it’s a conspiracy to plot a “death,” but it fails to take into account the fact that the action being plotted isn’t illegal in the other state, rendering that conspiracy moot.

This is the worst error for two reasons. First, it uses a completely unlikely scenario to scare  those seeking reproductive health care at a truly perilous time. With a ban potentially going into effect in months, now is the time for abortion funds and practical support groups to gather funds and volunteers in preparation. Telling people wrongly that they could potentially be arrested for assisting in a “conspiracy” will scare off the very same supporters who are desperately needed at this time.

Secondly, erroneously claiming that those who physically or financially support Georgians trying to obtain abortions could be subject to criminal penalties diminishes the very real legal risks that those obtaining abortions outside of legal clinic situations are already facing — and will increasingly face — if this ban ever does go into effect.

People in Georgia are already going to jail because of illegal abortions — and that will likely only get worse. We don’t need fear-mongering about others being in danger, too. Instead, we should focus on minimizing the risk to those directly impacted.

Abortion bans and restrictions are coming at record pace, and they will continue to do so until the Supreme Court finally makes a decision — in one way or another. The media must learn to accurately report on these bans, and not exploit them for readership gains. Real lives and liberty hang in the balance.

Photo credit: Robin Marty/Flickr

34 comments

Christine V
Christine Vyesterday

False media reporting is a big problem.

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Dan B
Dan Blossfeld4 days ago

The abortion debate as viewed from outside our country.

https://theweek.com/articles/841928/silenced-majority-americas-crazed-abortion-debate

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Sherry Kohn
Sherry Kohn5 days ago

Noted

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Karin Hanson
Karin Hanson5 days ago

Just goes to show how ignorant these southern Repugs are!! This is 2019, not 1919..... OMG they want to reverse Roe vs Wade - that was 50 years ago!! Why are all these Old Repugs so ridiculously stupid - Senility obviously!

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Debbi W
Debbi W5 days ago

I sincerely hope none of these abortion laws are passed on to SCOTUS. That could mean the end of Roe v Wade.

Meanwhile, each state must elect more democrats to turn more states blue.

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Colin Clauscen
Colin Clauscen5 days ago

Yes next stop SCOTUS

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Alea C
Alea C5 days ago

The only reason these states are passing draconian abortion laws is to have them challenged. Then SCOTUS can legally overturn Roe v Wade, which it can't wait to do.

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Peggy B
Peggy B5 days ago

TYFS

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Loredana V
Loredana V5 days ago

Education, information and a bit of common sense (not to be fooled by fake news) are very useful.
Thank you!

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Heather B
Heather B5 days ago

Chill on the panic attack and hysterical discourse. There are issues of constitutionality and confidentiality that have yet to be determined.

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