Roe v. Wade Overturned: Will the Chatham DA prosecute people who get abortions?

·3 min read

On Friday evening and hours after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in a 6-3 ruling, Savannahians took to Johnson Square to protest and rally against the ruling, which would put the decision on abortion firmly in the hands of states.

One of the gatherers was Chatham County District Attorney Shalena Cook Jones, who denounced the overturning of the 1976 ruling, saying it set the country back and puts prosecutors in a precarious position. "I want you to know that the decision the court made today puts prosecutors like myself on the firing line," she said.

Passed by the Georgia legislature in 2019, H.B. 481, otherwise known as the state's "Heartbeat Bill," bans abortion as soon as heartbeat activity is detected — typically six weeks into a pregnancy and before people know that they are pregnant.

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Originally set to take effect in 2020, H.B. 481 was struck down as unconstitutional. The state filed an appeal in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, where it has languished. In a tweet Friday afternoon, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr announced his office filed a notice requesting the 11th Circuit Court reverse the decision and allow the law to take effect. Should it take effect, the bill would allow for the criminalization of people who seek abortions.

Jones spoke briefly with a Savannah Morning News reporter on whether she will prosecute those who chose to get an abortion. While she did not give a definitive "yes" or "no," Jones said she will use her prosecutorial discretion to prosecute offenses that pose the greatest risk to public safety and public health.

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"For example, we need to be focusing on serious violent crime, ending gun violence and gang violence," she said. "We need to focus our already limited resources on those. And that's how I plan to continue to keep the streets of Chatham County safe."

Jones added she didn't think any prosecutor could unequivocally say "yes" or "no," because cases have to be addressed on a case-by-case matter. "The prosecutor's job is to address each case on a case-by-case. But when I am evaluating cases, I am looking for cases that pose threat and I don't see this as being one of them."

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Jones' comments stuck with SCAD student Dennis Skilling, who attended Friday evening's rally.

“I like the words, I really hope she follows through on that," he said. "It shows why it’s so important to vote in local elections. The local government really does have the power when it comes to stuff like that. Even if the federal government lets us down, hopefully, we’ll see that support from smaller officials.”

Jones' comments come as DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston publicly said she would not prosecute people who get an abortion.

"It is my contention that law enforcement and prosecutors should not be thrust into this health space, regardless of the legislation on the books," Boston said in a lengthy Facebook post.

Raisa is a Watchdog and Investigative Reporter for The Savannah Morning News. Contact her at rhabersham@gannett.com.

This article originally appeared on Savannah Morning News: Roe v. Wade: Will Chatham DA prosecute people who get abortions?