On Friday, June 24, the Supreme Court made a drastic decision affecting women of all ages across the United States. In a 213-page opinion, the court officially overturned Roe v. Wade, making abortion no longer a constitutional right. Women, transgender, and non-binary Americans of all ages are being catapulted 50 years back into the past, stripped of a right that they had for most of their lives. From now on, all laws concerning abortion will fall upon each state. So, what does this mean for Georgia?
“Honestly, it made me sick to my stomach,” says Jordan Sigmon, a rising freshman at Columbus State University, when recalling her thoughts upon hearing Roe v. Wade being overturned.“It really does feel like we’re regressing. You’re stripping away someone’s rights and then planning to go after others. It’s insane to me.”
The Fetal Heartbeat Law
Georgia has its own policy concerning abortion. In May of 2019, the GOP-controlled Georgia legislature passed and GOP Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed the “fetal heartbeat” law, which bans abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected — this usually happens around six weeks into pregnancy. Currently, this law is undergoing review by the federal court of appeals. If upheld, the “fetal heartbeat” law would be enacted. A decision is expected to be issued in July.
Will This Affect Young Georgians?
Overturning Roe v. Wade will undoubtedly affect young people all across the United States, as many states already have, or will soon have either abortion bans or restrictions. Along with Georgia’s abortion law, the state has a higher than average rate of teen pregnancies. The teen birth rate across the nation is 16.7 pregnancies for every 1,000 teens. For Georgia, the rate is higher, with a teen birth rate of 19.7, according to America’s Health Rankings. Because of this, the state — and especially the youth — will likely face negative impacts once the fetal heartbeat law officially takes effect.
Melissa Kottke, Associate Professor in the Department of Gynecology and Obstetrics at the Emory University School of Medicine, and Director at the Jane Fonda center states, “This [HB 481] will disproportionately impact young people, people of color, people with lower incomes, LGBTQ+ people and people with challenges accessing healthcare.”
Lack of Proper Sexual Education
The sex education taught in public schools is lacking in many ways. This is because even though Georgia teen pregnancies are higher than the national average, the only sex education allowed to be taught in Georgia public schools is abstinence, and the only contraceptives taught are condoms. Furthermore, although the CDC recommends certain sexual health subjects to be taught in public schools, less than one-third do so.
Young people are not given a concrete, fully comprehensive education about safe sex in public schools. Instead, they are taught a watered-down version that has not been proven to be effective. This can allow for more teen pregnancies to occur.
Kottke notes, “Young people often diagnose their pregnancies later than people who are older. This can be due to a number of reasons including irregular periods, misinformation or incomplete information about pregnancy, lack of access to care or confidentiality, or fear and uncertainty about what to do next. Unfortunately, that may mean that a young person may realize they are pregnant at the time/gestational age when abortion is no longer legal for them in our state.”
Lack of Efficient Healthcare
A strong healthcare system, and access to it, are vital to a community and is something that every citizen deserves. However, Georgia already fails in several ways when it comes to certain kinds of healthcare. According to The Population Institute’s 50-state report card on reproductive health and rights, Georgia scored very low in scores in affordability, prevention, and access, overall receiving a “F” for reproductive health and rights. Still, this is not the only way Georgia falls short of providing people with adequate healthcare. According to a 2017 Guttmacher Institute study, 95 percent of counties in Georgia did not have any clinics that provided abortions, despite the fact that 55 percent of Georgia’s female population lived in those areas.
It was clear even before the overturning of Roe v. Wade that Georgia does not prioritize abortion care. This causes drastic effects on women, transgender, and non-binary youth who depend on proper healthcare.
Access to abortion is important for many reasons. It helps people have control of their lives, their pregnancy, and to plan for a family when they are financially and emotionally ready.
If a teenager no longer has access to abortion and is forced to carry the pregnancy to term, they would most likely be giving up many aspects of their life for being a parent — something that they are often just not ready for.
Teenagers are normally dependent on their parents or immediate families, and may not have lucrative enough jobs to provide for themselves. They are also typically focused on their studies and social life. When a teenager becomes a teen parent, they would have to balance the struggles of adolescence with the struggles of parenthood. They would have to raise a child while in many ways, still being a child themself.
“I know women who weren’t financially ready enough for a baby and just couldn’t bring a child under those conditions,” says Sqai Jackson, who currently is enrolled at SCAD University in Atlanta. “I’m always so afraid that this could happen to me. And now that I live in a state that will probably ban abortions, I could literally lose my life one day if I accidentally become pregnant without the right resources. I shouldn’t be forced to have a baby when I’m not ready.”
Education is a vital element of someone’s adolescent years. A proper education could prepare them for a successful future in many varying ways, such as teaching life skills such as time management, helping students discover their interests, and of course, preparing them for either higher education or the workforce.
Not graduating from high school can have drastic effects on a young person’s life, and one can only imagine the effects it would have on a teen mother. Besides not getting the preparation needed for later on in their life, they would also likely suffer from a lower quality of life, and even poverty, later on in their adulthood. For example, annually, a student who drops out of high school will make about 10,000 dollars less than their peer who graduated high school, and about 36,000 dollars less than a student who receives a college degree, according to the US Census Bureau.
Sadly, this is the reality that teen mothers often face because the odds of graduation are against them — only about 50 percent of teen mothers graduate from high school. In comparison, 90 percent of women who did not give birth during high school graduate, according to the CDC.
Following the overturning of Roe v. Wade, this could be daunting for teens, even ones who just suspect they missed a period or two.
That’s because, if a teen becomes pregnant, they have just about a six-week countdown until they are no longer able to terminate their pregnancy. The issue is that most don’t even know that they are pregnant during this period. After that six weeks, they will face a new reality — the reality of being a parent.
“The logistics of traveling out of state for abortion are difficult for any person, but are even more difficult for young people. It is possible that HB 481 will result in more young people having to continue a pregnancy which may impact future education, occupation, and earnings,” states Kottke.
Not only does this affect teen mothers, transgender, and non-binary people, but teen fathers as well. Many men — one in five — have been involved in a pregnancy that ended in an abortion, and this number could presumably be even higher. And similarly to women, men that were involved in a pregnancy that ended in abortion are four times more likely to graduate from university compared to their peers whose involvement in pregnancy did not end in abortion. If all of those pregnancies did not end in abortion, they likely may have never graduated or even pursued higher education, to begin with.
Schools in Georgia may also have to deal with a new challenge that Roe v. Wade may introduce – lower graduation rates. The graduation rate for the 2021 school year was 83.8 percent, which remains steady from 2020’s school year, which was 83.7 percent. Having a decline in graduation rates would break a nearly decade’s streak of increasing graduation rates.
With many young women and their partners likely not noticing that they are pregnant until sometime after the fetal heartbeat is detected, more pregnancies would ensue. Statistically, this would most likely lead to a higher rate of drop-outs, and lower graduation rates.
Poverty and Quality of Life
If a teenager becomes pregnant, it is likely she will be subjected to poverty. This is because many teen mothers move out of their family home to start a family of their own. However, two-thirds of those mothers live in poverty, says Urban Institute. Since most young mothers haven’t completed their education and have little-to-no work experience, most employment opportunities available to young mothers are only part-time careers with low pay, often minimum wage jobs, which are scarcely ever enough to live on. Therefore, they often depend on government assistance — within one year of a teen mother’s child being born, 63 percent will enroll in a welfare benefit program, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Endangerment of Youth
The fetal heartbeat law in Georgia allows no exceptions for rape or incest. If a woman at any age becomes pregnant by a rapist, abuser, family member, etcetera, and she does not realize she is pregnant before six weeks, she will have to carry that pregnancy to term. A feature on the struggle an 11-year-old rape survivor faced when trying to receive an abortion in Brazil shows what reality Georgians may have to face in the future. This can cause drastic effects for any age, including a teen’s or a child’s mental health and overall wellbeing.
“I felt heartbroken and terrified,” says Y, a high school student in Forsyth County. She is identified by the initial ‘Y’ for her safety. “My immediate thought was, ‘we are living in a country that hates its people.’ When I was 14 or so, I was raped by someone my family knew well. Getting hurt by an adult who I looked up to shattered me; I wasn’t able to open up to my immigrant parents knowing they would just blame me. And the health class at my school only taught about abstinence. So in that moment, I had absolutely no idea what to do, who to talk to; I felt alone and helpless. I was scared for the months ahead but I knew if I was pregnant, I’d always have the choice to abort. I can’t help thinking about how if I didn’t have that choice when I was 14, I would have likely done something that would put my body in a very dangerous situation.”
Teenagers’ Mental Health
The mental health crisis among teens is already a serious issue all across the nation. Many young people suffer from a mental illness, even at young ages – recent studies show between the ages of 12 and 18, one in five youth have at least one diagnosable mental health disorder, says the Adolescent Wellness Academy. And serious effects of mental illness, such as depression, are on the rise. The suicide rate among teenagers between 18 and 19 increased by 56 percent during the years 2008 and 2017. However, mental health experts say that this is not the peak — the teenage mental health crisis is steadily on the rise.
People of all ages already face anxiety and the overturning of Roe. v Wade isn’t helping. Feelings of depression, hopelessness, and intense stress are already common among teenagers, but following recent events, many young people may suffer further.
It can be worrying to unknowingly miss a six-week deadline and then suddenly have to face the actuality of either becoming a parent who is not ready to become one or depending on limited resources to travel to a state that has not banned abortion. For Georgians, the closest state where abortion will likely remain legal is North Carolina, which is nearly a seven-hour drive. It can be stressful or anxiety-inducing for young people who either are unable to afford the fares, don’t have a car or don’t have someone to drive them seven hours away.
Given these new challenges and worries, the mental health of teens will likely continue to decrease.
The Future of Georgia Abortion Policy
Since Roe v. Wade has been completely overturned, it is not implausible that Governor Kemp, who is up for re-election this fall, could lead an effort to restrict abortion at the next legislative session, or rather than wait until 2023, he may even call a special session for the matter to be discussed. He may face pressure from fellow Republicans, pushing him to create stricter abortion policies. Already, he has begun to face pressure from Georgia Right to Life to call a special session in order to consecrate “personhood rights” in the constitution.
And in the future, contraception is at risk of being restricted or even banned. In Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ concurring opinion, Griswold v Connecticut — the case that legalized contraception — was mentioned among several other cases. The same sorts of logic that were implemented to overturn Roe v. Wade can now be implemented to overturn Griswold as well, which would open up a plethora of other issues concerning family planning, healthcare, and overall, women’s rights.
One recent graduate of Cobb County Schools, Anna Parmer, 17, recounts her experience as a young woman dependent on some of the things that Supreme Court Justices such as Thomas aim to attack.
“I have a family history of Fibroids and Endometriosis, both of which are only fixed by birth control or a hysterectomy,” says Parmer. “I am on birth control currently and nothing is happening. I still have excruciating pain and when I tell my OBGYN, they can’t do much because I’m under 18, or I don’t have children yet. It’s sickening that my pain is already being dismissed and now with Roe v. Wade overturned, I’m scared by the time I’m 18 I won’t be able to get the proper healthcare I need to treat this.”
If the Supreme Court decides to move forward and overturn Griswold v. Connecticut as well (the case that legalized contraception), then teenagers like Parmer are at risk for their health and safety.
However, there is another strong candidate for governor in the November general election. If elected, Democrat Stacey Abrams could very well change Georgia’s future for women’s reproductive rights, and once again let women be in control of their own bodies.
In an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union” show, Abrams told Jake Tapper, “We know that the right to choose should not be divvied up amongst states. And that the sinister practice of taking constitutional rights and allowing each state to decide the quality of your citizenship is wrong. Women deserve bodily autonomy, they deserve the right to make these choices.”
Depending on the outcomes, this upcoming November election could have a major positive change on women’s rights in the state of Georgia in the near future, ensuring women all across Georgia from having to live 50 years in the past.