OPINION — Jen Jordan went to the well of the Georgia Senate two weeks ago to tell Republican lawmakers that she wasn’t looking for a fight on abortion rights, but that she and other women in the state were willing to have it as the legislature prepared to pass one of the strictest abortion laws in the country. The “heartbeat bill,” which the governor is expected to sign, bans abortions after a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat, typically around the sixth week of pregnancy.
In her dissent, the Democrat from Atlanta detailed for her fellow senators all kinds of impolite facts that most men in the chamber had probably never discussed publicly — a woman’s uterus, transvaginal ultrasounds, fertilized eggs, and why some women might not even know they are pregnant at six weeks, just one or two weeks past their menstrual period.
“Yes, I am talking about stuff I don’t want to talk about in this chamber,” she said. “But let me tell you something. If you’re going to get into the most private areas where women are, then you’re going to have to listen to it.”
Jordan also told the chamber something about the most private area of her life that few people knew at all — that along with her two successful pregnancies (she and her husband have two children), she had been pregnant eight other times, all of which ended in miscarriage.
“I have been on my knees time after time in prayer to my God about my losses,” she said. “But no matter my faith, my beliefs, my losses — I have never, ever strayed from the basic principle that each woman must be able to make her decisions, in consultation with her God and her family.”
In an interview Monday, Jordan told me she struggled with the decision to share a story so few people in her life knew, but felt it was essential for other lawmakers to understand that the reality surrounding pregnancies, especially difficult ones, is rarely simple or easy. The debate about who makes decisions about those pregnancies should not be easy or simple either.
“The only way I thought the men in that chamber would get it is was to personalize it,” she said. “It needed to be reframed. It needed to really be about women’s health and the right of women to make decisions about what is appropriate for them and their families and their children, no matter what they are, and to trust that women are going to do the right thing.”
Jordan will deliver the same message Tuesday to Sen. Lindsey Graham and the rest of the Senate Judiciary Committee as it holds a full committee hearing on the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” a bill that Graham has sponsored since 2013 that would institute a federal ban on abortions after 20 weeks, with some exceptions. Ranking member Dianne Feinstein’s office reached out to Jordan to testify after her floor speech went viral.
The federal bill is part of an ongoing effort among conservative legislatures to incrementally roll back abortion protections at varying points of pregnancy at the state and federal levels. Four states have already signed fetal heartbeat measures into law, while five more will consider similar bans this year. Twenty states have laws in effect that prohibit late-term abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights.
The ultimate goal for some is for state-level bans to be challenged and appealed to the Supreme Court as a way to overturn Roe v. Wade.
According to the New York Times, Damon Thayer, the Republican majority leader of the Kentucky Senate, told reporters in January as a six-week ban was being debated, “I would be proud if it’s Kentucky that takes it all the way up to the Supreme Court and we challenge Roe v. Wade. That would be absolutely the pinnacle of my career in the Legislature.”
The entire movement seems to have happened almost without notice in Washington. As most reporters focus on the Mueller report, the Russia investigation, the dramas and darlings inside the 2020 Democratic field, and the president’s tweets of the day, a sea change in access to abortion for millions of women in the country is taking place just beneath the surface of the nation’s attention. Unless someone lights themselves on fire during opening statements or the president tweets about it, I don’t expect the hearing or the issue to get the attention they deserve either, until possibly election season.
Speaking of elections, when Jordan finished her floor speech in Georgia, she did it with a warning for Republican lawmakers who voted for the ban: “If you shirk the most basic duties you have to protect the fundamental rights of women today, then no doubt the women of this state will reclaim their rights — after they have claimed your seats.”
And indeed, a slate of Democratic women have announced they’re running against several of the Republicans who voted for the bill. One, Caroline Holko, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Greg Bluestein that she called her representative to tell him what she called a deeply personal story about how she felt an abortion saved her life, only to be dismissed.
“To paraphrase Ruth Bader Ginsburg: How many women are enough in the House? All the seats,” she said.
In deep-red states like North Dakota and Mississippi, Democratic challenges over attempts to overturn Roe v. Wade would hardly make a difference in a legislator’s future. But in increasingly battleground states like Georgia, it could radically change who votes, who is elected, and who makes decisions about women and their pregnancies in the future.
In Jordan’s opinion, the right to make that decision belongs to one person alone — a woman.
Patricia Murphy covers national politics for The Daily Beast. Previously, she was the Capitol Hill bureau chief for Politics Daily and founder and editor of Citizen Jane Politics. Follow her on Twitter @1PatriciaMurphy.
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