Georgia’s history is fraught with violence against Black women. Deriving from the painful origins of slavery, where Black women were forced into pregnancy and childbirth by their enslavers, we find ourselves in an eerily familiar landscape where women are denied the autonomy to choose whether or when to birth babies. In 2019, Georgia lawmakers passed an anti-abortion law that was ruled unconstitutional. On the heels of the Supreme Court’s ruling to overturn Roe v. wade, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals decided Georgia’s law, House Bill 481, is allowable. Most abortions are now illegal in Georgia after six weeks. Banning abortion perpetuates violence, impinges self-determination and economic opportunities for women and childbearing people, and worsens outcomes for Black women and children.
Georgia is home to more than 2.5 million women of childbearing age, a significant portion of whom (879,200) are Black women. Black women in Georgia are three times more likely to die from complications of pregnancy and childbirth, and Georgia has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality in this country. Outside of pregnancy-related causes like hemorrhage or infection, homicide is the 3rd leading cause of pregnancy-associated death among women during and after pregnancy in Georgia. Georgia’s ban will likely lead to more violence and death.
While some may point to the establishment of fetal “personhood” in HB 481 as an economic benefit now that pregnant people can list a fetus as a dependent on state taxes and file for child support, these tax breaks will have little measurable impact for families in comparison to the damage forced pregnancy may cause to people’s lives and economic prospects.
One in five Black working-age women in Georgia live in poverty.[i] Historically, as access to economic opportunities like property ownership, bank accounts, and higher education were afforded to white women, it took decades for those same rights to reach Black women. Today, racism and bias in employment and hiring, occupational segregation, and other structural barriers persist to limit economic advancement for Black women. As a result, Black women are paid just 63 cents for every dollar paid to men for doing the same work.
Historical and present-day policies in Georgia have punished Black women and single mothers by restricting cash assistance based on family structure or a family’s reproductive decisions. In 1951, Governor Talmadge signed a law that would deny grants to “more than one illegitimate child of a mother.” Fortunately, the federal government pushed back on this policy. Yet, the state developed “suitable home policies” to prevent unwed mothers from accessing cash aid, with the intent of preventing access to support for Black mothers. Today, Georgia has one of the lowest Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) monthly benefit amounts in the country—$280 for a family of threewhich is woefully insufficient. Racist narratives from the late 20th century like the black welfare queen trope were used to justify the establishment of family caps and work reporting requirements, severely limiting economic support for Black mothers. Georgia’s abortion ban and safety net policies are hostile to parents and families.
Nearly 80 percent of Black mothers are primary breadwinners for Georgia families, and raising a child is expensive. In fact, according to the United States Department of Agriculture, it costs roughly $10,000 to $20,000 annually (or about $233,610 from birth to age 17) to raise a child in this country. Forcing Black women and birthing people into parenthood, as they navigate structural inequities and face the high cost of child rearing with limited economic support, threatens their economic stability and opportunities.
Georgia’s lawmakers must do better to protect the wellbeing of women and birthing people in our state—especially Black women. They can start by fully expanding Medicaid, which would provide access to health insurance for an estimated 490,000 Georgians, 36% of whom are Black. While access to health coverage is not a substitute for abortion care and will not address the lack of abortion access in our state, it can help to ensure that people have access to medical care, contraception, and prenatal and postpartum care. Georgia lawmakers should also reform TANF and explore alternatives such as guaranteed income to ensure families can meet their needs.
Black women have been devalued and exploited for too long. Not only should women and birthing people have the right to bodily autonomy, but to self-determination and economic opportunity. There is no economic justice without reproductive justice.
Dominique Derbigny Sims is senior vice president at the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute.
[i] GBPI analysis of Census American Community Survey data; numbers based on 2019 5-year estimates.