Cecile Richards: Georgia’s New “Fetal Heartbeat” Bill Criminalizes Women Who Seek Abortions

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Georgia’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp signed into law Tuesday a six-week abortion ban, or so-called fetal heartbeat law, that bans abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected—something that typically happens just six weeks into a pregnancy and before many women realize they’re pregnant. It is now one of the country’s most restrictive abortion laws. “It doesn’t just make abortion illegal,” says Cecile Richards, former head of Planned Parenthood. “It basically would allow women to be convicted and either sentenced to death or to life imprisonment in Georgia.” She notes the real medical crisis for women in Georgia and nationwide is maternal mortality.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s talk about what’s just happened in Georgia. The Republican governor, who beat Stacey Abrams, Brian Kemp, who was secretary of state—and she has sued over his both remaining secretary of state in charge of the elections and running for governor. But the Republican Governor Brian Kemp has signed into law a six-week abortion ban, or so-called fetal heartbeat law. It bans abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected—something that typically happens just six weeks into a pregnancy and before many women realize they’re pregnant. This is Kemp speaking at the signing of the bill on Tuesday.

GOV. BRIAN KEMP: The LIFE Act is very simple but also very powerful, a declaration that all life has value, that all life matters and that all life is worthy of protection. I understand, like the others have said, that some oppose this legislation. I realize that some may challenge it in the court of law. But our job is to do what is right, not what is easy. We are called to be strong and courageous, and we will not back down. We will always continue to fight for life.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Georgia’s Republican Governor Brian Kemp, the latest in a series of attacks on reproductive rights across the U.S. Last month, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine also signed into law a six-week abortion ban. The legislation doesn’t include exceptions for cases of rape or incest. More than two dozen other states are considering legislation to ban or restrict abortion in various ways. Among the slew of strategies are trigger bans to make abortion completely illegal in a state should Roe v. Wade be overturned, as well as six-week abortion bans. Respond to Kemp and then what’s happening across the country.

CECILE RICHARDS: Well, obviously, the hypocrisy of this, of just that clip you played, is underscored by the fact that, in fact, there is a crisis in this country, and it is maternal mortality rates, which are the highest in the developed world. I actually believe Georgia has the second-highest rate of maternal death related to pregnancy of any state. So, if there’s actually a medical crisis in Georgia, it’s about women dying as a result of complications from childbirth. So, that’s on the one side. If Governor Kemp actually wanted to do something about a real problem, that’s something that they could address, but you hear him say nothing about that. And, of course, it’s higher for women of color, I think three times the rate for black women than it is for white women.

This bill, though, not only is it unconstitutional, and I believe will be declared so, but one of the things he doesn’t mention is that it actually criminalizes women, as well. It doesn’t just make abortion illegal; it basically would allow women to be convicted and either sentenced to death or to life imprisonment in Georgia. So, we are now going from not only making abortion illegal, but criminalizing women who make this decision, that has been constitutional now for more than 40 years in the United States of America. And I think it directly relates back to the work we talked earlier about in Supermajority. I think women are tired of basically being seen as a special interest, as a side issue. These are issues that affect every single woman in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what exactly are you going to be doing? You talked about mobilizing women. Are you registering women?

CECILE RICHARDS: Well, I mean, I think eventually, as we get into next year. But right now what women are raising their hands saying is they want to be trained. They want to—and we actually just did a call yesterday with about 1,500 women, the first folks that signed up to do a call. They want to be trained in activism. They want to know how to actually affect legislation. And they absolutely are going to be part of designing a New Deal for Women, so that in this all-important presidential election, Amy, as well as all the other elections that are going to be going on, that candidates and anyone who wants to be elected has to respond to the issues that women care about. And so that will be a lot of the organizing work we’re doing, both online and offline, in the coming months.

AMY GOODMAN: Four Democratic women have now announced their plans to run for president. The significance of this for you? And will you be endorsing?

CECILE RICHARDS: I think the importance of—obviously, there’s no way to overstate the importance of women running for president, and I’m thrilled that they are, and I think they’re raising issues that have long been needed to be raised. I think it’s disturbing to see what I believe is a real double standard in how they are being treated versus the many, many, many men that are running for president. You know, two-thirds of political reporting is still done by men. And so, I am hoping that, both through Supermajority, through other folks that follow the media, we can actually be lifting up the important work that these women have done. As you probably know, these are women who, in large part, have never lost a political race. And so when people talk about women being unelectable, I think it’s really important to look at their record, because it stands up really in contrast to a lot of the men who are actually in the race right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Today, the House Ways and Means Committee is holding its first-ever hearing on paid family and medical leave. What do you want to see come out of this hearing?

CECILE RICHARDS: I think, one, it’s incredibly important that you’re reporting that. I think it’s been underreported. We are the only developed country with no nationally mandated family leave policy. This is an issue that every person in the country that I talk to raises—the difficulty of taking care of their families, of their children, of their loved ones, of their parents. I think the important thing, and where I believe Supermajority can play a real role, is lifting up what is happening in Congress, so that anyone in the United States Senate is held accountable about where they vote on this issue. This should be and could be the first thing that the new president signs into law.

AMY GOODMAN: Just a correction, what I said earlier, and that you questioned: 52% of white women voted for President Trump in 2016, although Pew put it at something like 47%, not 52%, of white women voted for Donald Trump, according to the Pew Research Center. They found 45% voted for Hillary Clinton.

CECILE RICHARDS: Yes, and that’s why I—there have been different numbers come out. Definitely a plurality of white women. But one of the things I think is also worth looking at, Amy, is in this last election, in 2018, where we elected a record number of women to Congress, a record number of women of color to Congress, actually, for the first time in years, white women split their votes evenly between Democratic and Republican candidates. Now, that’s not true across the board; it depends on the state. But I do think there is really a growing recognition that there are opportunities to talk to women about the important issues they care about and how the candidates stand on those.

AMY GOODMAN: How is it that though there is a clear pro-choice majority in this country—

CECILE RICHARDS: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: —most states are imposing some kind of abortion ban?

CECILE RICHARDS: Well, because if you look at who is actually—I mean, look at my home state of Texas, where we have had the most gerrymandered districts for years and have been fighting in court forever. So, I would say the state legislatures in a lot of these states, including Texas, are not representative of the majority of people. You pile on that, as we know, the restrictions on voting for people in this country–Georgia, Texas, many, many states—we don’t have a representative democracy. One of the things we need in this country is we need democracy reform. And I know that’s something that Stacey Abrams is fighting for, Andrew Gillum, other folks. This is really important, because we can’t have a true democracy that represents a majority of people, unless everybody can vote and every vote is counted.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, how much does your mother, Ann Richards, the former governor of Texas, influence—her legacy influence what you’re doing today, moving from Planned Parenthood to Supermajority?

CECILE RICHARDS: Well, I’d like to think that Ann Richards would be the first—one of the early folks to sign up for Supermajority. She believed so profoundly in the importance of democracy representing all people—not only women; people of color and people who have been underrepresented. And I think that’s actually what most people in this country believe. And I’m grateful to mom. I’m grateful to the, obviously, centuries of women, of people of color, of women of color, who fought to make this a stronger democracy. And now it’s on the rest of us to keep that going.

AMY GOODMAN: Cecile Richards, thanks so much for being with us, co-founder of Supermajority, former president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

When we come back, Congress holds the first hearings on the ERA—that’s the Equal Rights Amendment—in more than three decades. Stay with us.

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