Democratic presidential candidates will travel to Atlanta, Georgia, on November, 20, to debate pressing issues facing our country. As a state legislator who represents some of the most vibrant neighborhoods in the heart of Atlanta, I’d like to warmly welcome the candidates to the Peach State! I’m looking forward to hearing about their plans to make lives better for the Georgians who live in my district and beyond. As a public servant who has committed much of my career to fighting for reproductive rights, I am particularly thrilled that tomorrow’s debate will feature an all-women panel of distinguished journalists.
Everyone in Atlanta will be listening carefully for the presidential candidates to talk about issues that are critical to our quality of life, like securing voting rights and raising the minimum wage. But one issue that we will expect to hear about is reproductive health care, because it has been front and center for Georgians this year.
Unfortunately, fighting to protect and expand reproductive health care is not a goal that all of my colleagues in the Georgia state legislature share. Earlier this year, our state became Ground Zero of a nationwide sweep of extreme abortion bans when Republican legislators in my state passed a law that prohibited abortion care as early as six weeks — before most people even know they’re pregnant. In May, Gov. Brian Kemp signed it into law.
Before I ran for the state legislature, I worked with social justice nonprofits and women’s health clinics. It was deeply rewarding and important work, and I saw firsthand what a difference it can make in a person’s life if they have access to high quality, affordable reproductive health care and can plan for their futures.
Anyone who has worked in health care—and plenty who haven’t—knows that decisions about a patient’s medical options, particularly involving a safe, common procedure, should not be left to politicians. When we rob people of their right to make their own health care decisions in consultation with their doctors, the consequences can be devastating.
The extreme abortion ban sparked powerful outrage, and we mobilized. Hundreds of Georgians rallied at our state capitol and demanded that politicians protect our right to an abortion. Thanks to the efforts of a broad coalition of health care providers and patients, that abortion ban is temporarily blocked while the case is being argued in the court: Attorneys for Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a challenge to the law, with SisterSong serving as plaintiffs. But it may not stay blocked for long. We need to hear from the presidential candidates on stage about their plans to protect abortion care for people living in states that have passed extremely restrictive abortion bans, like Georgia, and how they will proactively expand reproductive rights in the years to come.
But the abortion ban isn’t the only urgent reproductive health care crisis we are facing here. Our state is the most dangerous in America for a pregnant person — and especially so for Black women. During the 2019 legislative session, Many of my Democratic colleagues joined me to introduce legislation to fund a study of the causes of infant and maternal mortality and find solutions, but it was never passed out of the House.
No one should have to fear for their lives just because they are pregnant. I’m not giving up on this cause—and there are many partners in the reproductive justice movement with me. The presidential candidates need to let us know how they will keep pregnant people safe, confront the disproportionately high Black maternal mortality rate head-on, and ensure everyone has access to quality reproductive health care.
Reproductive health care is top-of-mind for Georgia voters right now. But if the response to Georgia’s abortion ban has taught us anything, it’s that people are not going to sit idly by and watch as our rights are attacked. We have a diverse coalition of activists, voters, elected officials, doctors, and storytellers who will make our voices heard. And if politicians won’t listen? I know Georgia is ready to see new champions for reproductive freedom up and down the ballot.
The presidential candidates should recognize this truth for Georgia and voice their bold, unapologetic plans to protect reproductive health care on the debate stage tomorrow. We’ll be listening.
Rep. Park Cannon is the Democratic State Representative for Georgia House District 58.