Considering the state of the economy, unemployment, health care and education, there are plenty of “kitchen table” issues that should otherwise warrant the full focus and energy of our legislators. Instead, too many of our elected officials are obsessed with legislating women’s reproductive decisions or punishing low-income women and families in need of economic support.
The Georgia General Assembly is advancing numerous bills that are dangerous, restrictive and will inevitably reverse essential rights or deny access to vital women’s health care. The following are examples of such legislation:
HB 861 would require drug testing upon application for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds and random drug testing every two years for TANF fund recipients. The cost of the drug tests would be deducted from TANF benefits over a 12-month period of time. Policies that denigrate or punish women applying for TANF are not helped by stereotypes that prejudge them, and instead become a barrier for a chance to provide their children with shelter, food, and the necessities of healthy family life.
HB 954 would not only ban abortions after the 20th week, it would criminalize them with a 1 to 10 year prison sentence for Doctors deemed to be in violation. There is no exception for incest, rape, or fetal anomaly and the medical exceptions place emphasis on the life of the fetus, not on the health and safety of the woman. According to the CDC, less than 1.5% nationally of all abortions in 2008 occurred after 20 weeks. In these rare circumstances, the woman, in consultation with her family and her doctor should make these private medical decisions, and not politically-motivated legislators using debunked, dated scientific studies. There is no need for the government to second-guess women and families at their most critically personal moments by imposing one-size-fits-all requirements.
SB 292 would require low-income applicants to pay for drug testing before receiving TANF funds and Medicaid. The tests will be routed through the Department of Human Services (DHS) and there is no provision for confidentiality. Similar to HB 861, SB 292 prejudges women seeking TANF and Medicaid to provide for the necessities of their families, while not protecting their basic privacy rights.
SB 312 would require TANF and food stamp recipients to engage in personal growth activities like obtaining a GED, pursuing technical education; attending self-development classes or enrolling in an adult literacy class. According to the Fiscal Impact Note (LC 33 4686S) by the Department of Audits and Accounts, this bill would cost Georgia taxpayers $11.5 million annually; more if the Federal Government does not match this amount. Similar to HB 861, this policy would prejudge those seeking TANF and food stamps and instead become a barrier.
SB 438 would ban insurance coverage for all abortions in State Health Benefit Plans, with limited exceptions. Singling out one service for exclusion defeats the purpose of insurance coverage and shared risk, and unfairly forces state employees who are women to spend more than men who are state employees on medical care. Most insurance policies cover abortion care when a pregnancy is complicated by a health condition of the woman or pregnancy, as these procedures can be prohibitively expensive and this bill does not allow for that exception. By limiting options in coverage, this policy would limit a woman’s ability to make a decision that is best for her family and circumstances.
SB 458 would ban non-citizens from attending public colleges in the state who already pay the out-of-state tuition rates for their college education. Currently, less than 1% of all Georgia students in the University System are undocumented immigrants. This bill would likely force immigrant young adults into poverty by not denying them access to the higher education needed to pursue their dreams and future. Education is a fundamental stepping stone to strong and healthy immigrant families.
SB 460 would allow religious organizations to deny of contraceptive coverage in health insurance policies for their employees, making these organizations exempt from Georgia State Law that requires all health plans include prescription contraception coverage. The bill text indicates that the General Assembly acknowledges “the absence of prescription contraceptive coverage is largely responsible for the fact that women spend 68 percent more in out-of-pocket expenses for health care than men.” Insurance coverage of contraception is fundamentally needed to ensure that birth control methods are available and accessible so that women have the tools they need throughout their lives to control their fertility.
SB 469 is an anti-union and anti-protest bill, which would prohibit and criminalize nonviolent protests or picketing, specifically when a labor-dispute is involved. This is a severe violation of the First Amendment right to free speech. The passage of SB 469 would surely impact the ability to parent with dignity which requires fair economic policies such as a living wage, equal pay, paid sick and family leave, and other policies sought by labor organizations.
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