As states across the South try to one-up each other with increasingly strict abortion laws, providers say they’re fielding calls from patients who are worried that abortion is now illegal in their state.
“We have been totally bombarded by calls from folks in Alabama and Georgia and Mississippi,” said Barbara Ann Luttrell, director of communications at Planned Parenthood Southeast. “It’s become clear that folks on the ground don't seem to understand that abortion is still very much safe, legal and accessible in our three states for the time being.”
This week, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation banning abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected, or as early as six weeks gestation. The law isn’t set to take effect until 2020, and several national groups are working to get it permanently blocked by the courts before then. The Alabama state legislature, meanwhile, had to postpone a vote on a near-total abortion ban until next week, after a shouting match broke out on the Senate floor.
Still, the draconian legislation has inspired ominous headlines about the “nation’s strictest abortion ban” in Alabama and social media posts about a “total ban on abortion” in Georgia. A Planned Parenthood advocacy arm from New York state even tweeted that “a 6-week abortion ban is a TOTAL abortion ban, and women will die.”
According to providers in the South, that rhetoric isn’t helping. Three different abortion clinics told The Daily Beast they have received an influx in calls since the Georgia legislation was signed, asking if the clinics were still open and their appointments were still on.
“Some [people] with very good intentions about trying to illustrate how extreme this legislation is have used phrases like ‘Georgia has banned abortion completely,'” said Kwajelyn Jackson, executive director of the Feminist Women's Health Center in Atlanta. “I don’t want to diminish how terrible the law actually is and how harmful its effects would be. I just think it’s helpful to remind people that they can still get care.”
Luttrell said Planned Parenthood is also trying to quash misinformation about what the Georgia legislation would actually do. Her clinic has heard rumors about the law criminalizing women for administering their own abortions or traveling out of the state to get one. No one is sure how the law will play out, Luttrell said, but anti-abortion laws have historically been applied to criminalize doctors, not patients.
To correct these rumors, several of the clinics have taken to social media to spread the message that abortion is still legal and accessible. The landing page of the Feminist Women’s Health Center website on Friday read “Abortion is still legal in Georgia,” in bold, all-caps lettering. Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates made Twitter cards reminding Georgians they are “still providing the full spectrum of reproductive health care, including safe, legal abortion.”
Planned Parenthood Southeast CEO Staci Fox retweeted the message and added: “These doors stay open.”