The Augusta Chronicle

I am a mother, grandmother and woman of faith. I am also the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia. We represented SisterSong, Planned Parenthood, the Feminist Women’s Health Center and other groups in challenging the abortion ban enacted by the Georgia General Assembly and signed by Gov. Brian Kemp in 2019.

The decision of when and whether to begin or expand a family is deeply personal and private, and no one can know another person’s circumstances. These are decisions to be made by women in consultation with their own partners, their own families, their own physicians, their own faith. Politicians have no role. On July 13, the U.S. District Court agreed and preserved reproductive rights for Georgia women. The court agreed to “Let Her Decide.”

In her affirmation of reproductive rights in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor wrote, “The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.” Research has shown that in states with adequate reproductive health care policies, women are more upwardly mobile. Women in Georgia have made immeasurable contributions in our homes and communities, in civic life, in the public, private and nonprofit sectors. Despite these efforts and individual achievements, outcomes for women in Georgia lag behind our peers in other states.

The reality in Georgia is that the state Legislature and this governor worked to restrict women’s reproductive rights while failing to provide for the health and well-being of our state’s women and children. Seventy of the state’s 159 counties are without OB/GYN care. The state ranks 46th in the provision of child care and young children’s programs. Working parents have no state-mandated paid family and medical leave. The state took a significant step in addressing the shocking maternal mortality rate this legislative session by expanding Medicaid coverage for pregnant women to 6 months post-partum.

This was only necessary because Georgia rejected the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Medicaid expansion would have provided health care coverage for more than 680,000 residents of the state, including pre- and post-natal care and contraceptives. High maternal mortality rates are one consequence of that policy choice. The most recent data reveal that Black women in Georgia have 312 times the maternal mortality rate of women nationally and white women, twice the national rate.

State leaders oppose the Affordable Care Act in its entirety and have joined a lawsuit to have the Affordable Care Act struck down. These actions threaten the reproductive rights of women with private insurance who gained contraceptive coverage under the ACA. In addition, these actions threaten access to quality health care for many moderate-income Georgians.

In June, the ACLU of Georgia issued a report on the Status of Women in Georgia. We realized that the abortion ban law passed in Georgia was a symptom of an even more disturbing problem — that Georgia’s leaders are failing Georgia’s women by every meaningful indicator of well-being and equality. Georgia ranks ninth among the states in GDP but ranks 37th in terms of fair K-12 funding; 48th in terms of women with health insurance; and 33rd in the percentage of single mothers with children living below the poverty line.

Georgia’s women deserve better. The ACLU’s lawsuit, SisterSong v. Kemp, emphasized reproductive justice. Reproductive justice takes a holistic stance on the lives of women to underscore that women require genuine control over their reproductive lives to truly achieve equality. It is not justice when women make parenting decisions, because they have no health care; no family medical leave; no child care; no workplace protections during pregnancy; and no access to affordable housing or quality public schools. It is not justice when women work, yet only make only 70% of the median earnings for white men in the state. It’s not justice when politicians interfere with women’s personal and private decisions.

The ruling in SisterSong v. Kemp is an important step. The court’s decision protects women’s ability to control their reproductive lives. However, policymakers in our state – especially members of the Georgia Senate and House of Representatives – must invest in Georgia’s women by expanding access to health, education, and economic opportunity. And they must respect women’s civil rights and civil liberties and “Let Her Decide.”

The writer is the executive director of the ACLU of Georgia.