In defiance of a new draconian anti-abortion bill passed in Georgia, district attorneys in four of the largest counties in the state said Monday that they will not prosecute women who seek abortions.
Like a smattering of other so-called “heartbeat” bills that conservative state legislatures have approved this year, House Bill 481 will make it illegal for women to seek or doctors to perform an abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, which occurs around the sixth week of pregnancy—before many women even know they’re pregnant. Gov. Brian Kemp signed the bill two weeks ago, but it will not go into effect until Jan. 1, 2020.
Speaking with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the district attorneys for Fulton, Gwinnett, Cobb and DeKalb counties all told the newspaper they will not charge women who have abortions after six weeks. In a written statement, DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston told the AJC that while she personally opposes the bill, she will not use it to charge individuals because of the legislation’s vague wording.
“As District Attorney with charging discretion, I will not prosecute individuals pursuant to HB 481 given its ambiguity and constitutional concerns,” Boston wrote. “As a woman and mother, I am concerned about the passage and attempted passage of laws such as this one in Georgia, Alabama, and other states.”
Danny Porter, the district attorney for Gwinnett County, sent a statement to the AJC declaring that he doesn’t think it’d be legally possible to prosecute a woman for murder or unlawful abortion even when the bill is in effect.
“As a matter of law (as opposed to politics) this office will not be prosecuting any women under the new law as long as I’m district attorney,” Porter wrote.
Porter and Boston were joined by Paul Howard of Fulton County and John Melvin, the acting district attorney for Cobb County. Melvin said that while women would be safe from prosecution, he could not promise the same for doctors and nurses who perform procedures after six weeks. Republican bill sponsor Rep. Ed Setzler told the AJC that while the language of H.B. 481 technically allows for district attorneys to seek murder charges against a person who violates the law, the bill is only theoretically supposed to lead to prosecutions under the criminal abortion statute, which comes with a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.
Alabama and Missouri both passed restrictive anti-abortion bills of their own last week. Although Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards has already announced his intention to sign a similar measure, Louisiana will hold one final House vote this week and likely join the crowd shortly thereafter. As is the case with every one of these bills, the goal is not to initiate the mass incarceration of healthcare professionals, but to engage in a lawsuit that will make its way to the Supreme Court, giving the conservative majority the chance to overturn Roe v. Wade and outlaw abortion once and for all.