This summer, Georgia became the first state in the nation to formally recognize embryos as “persons” six weeks into a pregnancy. That means anyone who self-induces an abortion, as well some people who may miscarry or experience stillbirth, can be charged with homicide.
The ACLU, of course, challenged the law, and hearings are currently underway in the Fulton County Superior Court. That’s why Georgia’s attorney general race between Democrat Jen Jordan, currently a state senator, and incumbent Republican Chris Carr, who’s fought to overturn Roe for years, is so critical: It could be the difference between pregnant people and doctors ending up in prison, or not.
Jordan, who’s been open about having lost eight pregnancies herself, told Jezebel that if elected, she would do everything she can to stop the fetal personhood law from hurting actual, born people. “If I were attorney general right now, I would be challenging the bill itself as unconstitutional under the state Constitution,” Jordan said. While a state attorney general doesn’t have the power to enforce or not enforce laws, the office can issue critical guidance to local district attorneys and law enforcement agencies instructing them not to criminalize pregnancy outcomes. Jordan says she would use the office to clarify the “messy” aspects of Georgia’s law in a manner that “protects women and doctors.”
It’s important, Jordan told Jezebel, to recognize just how extreme this law is and what will happen when its fetal personhood component is enforced: “If a mandatory reporter, like a doctor, is told by his pregnant patient she’s been drinking wine, is he supposed to call the police, report that to the state as child abuse? When you extend all these rights to an embryo, there’s really significant consequences.”
Last week, Carr, the current state AG< denied that there was any threat of pregnant people being prosecuted under the six-week abortion ban, but ultimately conceded that “it would be up to the district attorneys to make that determination.” District attorneys, notably, prosecute pregnant people for pregnancy loss all the time, so his comment should not be reassuring to anyone.
Any legal recognition of fetal personhood leads to dangerous outcomes for pregnant people, including going to jail for a miscarriage (the outcome of nearly 25 percent of pregnancies) someone deemed to be suspicious or for losing a pregnancy after experiencing violence—like Marshae Jones, the Alabama woman who was jailed for miscarrying after being shot in 2019. In April, Lizelle Herrera in Texas was jailed for homicide after allegedly self-managing an abortion. Hundreds of people have been investigated, criminally charged, and jailed for alleged substance use while pregnant—in some cases, for returning positive drug tests after merely eating poppyseeds.
If a pregnant person’s “rights are secondary to the fetus or at odds with the fetus, that lends to an environment in which violence—whether it’s state violence like imprisonment or interpersonal violence—can be committed against pregnant people with far less accountability,” Dana Sussman, deputy director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, told Jezebel in March.
Personhood laws are also a slippery slope toward banning certain kinds of birth control and IVF, as Georgia’s governor has already signaled an openness to doing. If Jordan becomes state AG, she says she’d issue guidance to protect IVF patients and providers as well as emergency contraception. “If fetal personhood is interpreted to encompass embryos, even outside a woman’s body, there are tremendous implications,” Jordan said. “Republicans are refusing to say anything on the record about this, just getting caught on hot mic like [Kemp], but we can tell from their past behavior—doing everything possible to strip us of rights—exactly what they’re going to do, now.”
Jordan’s statewide race is important, she says—but voters should also be looking carefully up and down their ballots ballot at the county judges, local district attorneys, and anyone who might decide whether someone should face criminal charges for abortion or pregnancy loss. “This has to be a real clarifying moment for women,” she warned, “in terms of how this law is going to be applied or used either protect us or ultimately to hurt us.”