June 18, 2015 — Georgia legislation (HB 954) restricting abortion affects women's access to the procedure in regions across the U.S., according to a study published last week in the American Journal of Public Health, Medical Xpress reports (Kurtzman, Medical Xpress, 6/17).
The law bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. It does not allow exceptions for rape or incest, most cases of severe fetal anomaly or danger to a woman's health. It does permit abortions after 20 weeks if the fetus will not survive or if there is a "medical emergency," defined as "any condition which, in reasonable medical judgment, so complicates the medical condition of a pregnant female as to necessitate the immediate abortion of her pregnancy to avert her death" or for which a delay would risk irreversible impairment of a bodily function for the woman or death of the fetus.
The law was scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2013. However, the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia filed a lawsuit against the legislation on behalf of three obstetricians. In December 2012, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Doris Downs issued a preliminary injunction against the law (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/3/13).
According to Medical Xpress, the law has been partially implemented and effectively prohibits abortions at 24 weeks after a woman's last menstrual period, or LMP.
Currently, Georgia and Florida are the only two states in the Southeast where women can access outpatient abortion care at 20 weeks' gestation. Before the law partially took effect, Georgia was the only state in the Southeast or Midwest where women could access outpatient abortion care at 24 weeks (Medical Xpress, 6/17).
For the study, researchers from University of California-San Francisco assessed abortions performed at least 20 weeks after LMP at four of the abortion clinics in the state between 2012 and 2013 (American Journal of Public Health, 6/11).
They found that the number of abortions performed at that point of pregnancy declined 40%, from 1,269 in 2012 to 758 in 2013. Overall, the study found that about half of women who had an abortion between 20 and 24 weeks after LMP were from out-of-state, as were about two-thirds of women who accessed abortion care at least 24 weeks after LMP.
Sarah Roberts -- lead author of the study and assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at UCSF -- said, "The result, even from the ban's partial enactment, is a lack of access to later abortions throughout the South and Midwest." She added, "If the full ban goes into effect, the situation for the women who need these services will become even worse" (Medical Xpress, 6/17).