Prosecutors refusing to enforce anti-abortion laws and voters campaigning to put reproductive rights on the ballot are just some of the efforts that communities and advocates are taking to defend abortion rights statewide as Congress holds a series of hearings on the matter this week.
The House Committee on Oversight and Reform on Wednesday examined the impact of the US Supreme Court’s decision on health-care privacy and abortion rights, particularly toward marginalized and underserved communities. It’s one of several hearings that was scheduled this week by various committees on the fallout of the decision overturning Roe v. Wade.
The oversight hearing follows an effort by a Michigan coalition of reproductive rights groups to put a state constitutional amendment for the right to an abortion on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Michigan state Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D) and Georgia state Rep. Renitta Shannon (D) testified at the hearing and faced questions from Democratic lawmakers about their states’ efforts to protect reproductive rights. GOP lawmakers grilled them about infanticide and the definition of personhood.
McMorrow said that while her state’s ballot initiative, if successful, would ultimately codify reproductive protections into state law, she expressed concern that Republican gerrymandering could frustrate the will of voters.
A temporary court injunction currently stops a 1931 anti-abortion law from going into effect in Michigan.
Meanwhile, Shannon said that several state prosecutors in Georgia are openly refusing to prosecute those who seek an abortion. Georgia’s attorney general in June called on the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit to reverse a lower court’s ruling that had struck down the state’s six-week abortion ban.
Last month, a large group of elected prosecutors nationwide released a joint statement declining to use their office’s resources to criminalize reproductive health decisions. Seven prosecutors in Georgia have signed the statement, which has since been updated.
Shannon told Bloomberg Law after the hearing that she’s co-sponsored several bills to codify reproductive protections into law.
She also said she has consistently voted “no” on bills that increase surveillance on her constituents, citing the disproportionate effect it would have on Black and Brown communities that already are over-policed.
“Anytime you’re going to reduce privacy rights, you need to have a really good reason,” she said.
The high court ruling’s impact on low-income and minority communities took up a big focus during the hearing.
“Going to another state to receive abortion care is simply not an option” for those already burdened by low wages and expensive child care,” committee Chairwoman Rep.
“We know that abortion bans and restrictions will disproportionately harm people of color, people with low incomes, young people, LGBTQI+ individuals, undocumented people, and so many others,” she said.
Michele Bratcher Goodwin, a chancellor’s professor of law at the University of California, Irvine, said that the decision, “given federal and state health data, imposes a death sentence for Black and Brown women.”
McMorrow and Shannon agreed with this assertion.
“Since the inception of America, Black women have been battling for our bodily autonomy, resisting rape, forced birthing during enslavement, and involuntary sterilization into the late 1970s,” Shannon said in opening testimony. Over half of Georgia’s 159 counties don’t have access to an OB-GYN, and Black women are 3-4 times more likely to die during childbirth than their white counterparts, she said.
“I’ve had women reach out to me afraid of even trying to get pregnant, knowing they’re at higher risk of a complicated pregnancy and devastated to think of what might happen if everything doesn’t go exactly right,” McMorrow said.
Republican committee members during the hearing rejected Democratic rhetoric that the Dobbs decision is destroying democracy by outlawing abortion.
The Supreme Court’s decision didn’t outlaw anything and actually strengthened the democratic process by returning the issue to the states, Ranking Member Rep.
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