LGBTQ lawmakers: Georgia abortion ban bad for business

LGBTQ lawmakers, activists and political operatives are calling on Georgia’s business community to speak out against a bill that would effectively ban abortion in the state.

The group issued an open letter on Thursday to Georgia employers and business leaders, as well as to the Metro Atlanta and Georgia chambers of commerce. It comes on the day the bill is expected to get approved by the House a second time and sent to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature.

The LGBTQ contingent wants business leaders to fight House Bill 481 the same way they’ve fought anti-LGBTQ “religious freedom” legislation over the years.

“House Bill 481 would prevent reproductive choice before Georgians even become aware that they are pregnant, subjecting citizens of our state to forced pregnancy,” they wrote. “It would criminalize Georgians for seeking abortion care, and force victims of rape and incest to undergo the trauma of immediately filing police reports. Everyone from hourly workers to CEOs and consumers could be adversely impacted.”

They went on to call the bill “the most repressive legislation of its kind in the country.”

Signers of the letter include the five openly LGBTQ members of the state legislature, Reps. Matthew Wilson of Brookhaven, Renitta Shannon of Decatur, Karla Drenner of Avondale Estates, Park Cannon of Atlanta and Sam Park of Lawrenceville (top photo, left to right); Dan Lovingood, chair of the LGBTQ Caucus of the Democratic Party of Georgia; Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality; and Edie Cofrin, an Atlanta resident and board member of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. 

The writers noted that business leaders should follow the example of medical and film industry groups in publicly opposing the legislation.

"The silence of business leaders has been interpreted as acceptance of this dangerous legislation," they wrote. “We urge you to speak out now for Georgia's economy and its people. You stood up for our community; please don't be silent now.”

House Bill 481 would ban most abortions once a heartbeat is detected, which happens at about six weeks. The House passed it on March 7, with the Senate following on March 22. The Senate made changes to the bill, prompting the need for the second House vote on Thursday.  

Stacey Abrams, the former Democratic nominee for Georgia governor, called Georgia business leaders’ silence on the issue “short-sighted.” The AJC reached out to all Georgia-based Fortune 500 companies that opposed “religious freedom” legislation in 2016 to get their stance on HB 481. 

“Most declined to comment or said they were staying out of the debate,” according to the AJC.

The Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce replied that it was steering clear of the issue.

Cannon and Shannon gave emotional speeches against the bill on the day it faced a vote in the House. Cannon recalled getting an abortion after being sexually assaulted. Shannon went over her allotted time to speak, had her microphone cut and refused to leave the well of the House. Security and fellow Democrats eventually led her away.

Cannon also filed several “men’s reproductive health” measures to point out how women and men are treated differently in health care matters.

View the full letter the LGBTQ leaders sent to the business community below:

An open letter to: 

Georgia employers
Georgia Chamber of Commerce 
Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce 
Business leaders across Georgia 
Business leaders: 

When it mattered most, you stood up for Georgia's LGBTQ community and played a vital role in stopping the discriminatory "Religious Freedom Restoration Act" from inflicting pain on our fellow LGBTQ Georgians, and you prevented economic disaster for our state. We are grateful for that support, which spoke volumes about Georgia's values and saved Georgia's reputation as a welcoming state. 

It is our hope that, for those same reasons, you will speak out again to stop House Bill 481 from becoming law. 

House Bill 481 would prevent reproductive choice before Georgians even become aware that they are pregnant, subjecting citizens of our state to forced pregnancy. It would criminalize Georgians for seeking abortion care, and force victims of rape and incest to undergo the trauma of immediately filing police reports. Everyone from hourly workers to CEOs and consumers could be adversely impacted. It is the most repressive legislation of its kind in the country, sending the wrong message about Georgia. 

This is an economic issue. 

As you know, Georgia's medical and film communities are inextricably linked to our economy, and business cannot succeed in Georgia unless all sectors of our economy remain strong. The medical community has expressed strong opposition to House Bill 481. Film industry leaders have stated that they will no longer recommend Georgia as a production location if this bill is signed into law. 

Many business leaders have already spoken out. But too many in the business community have remained silent, and the silence of business leaders has been interpreted as acceptance of this dangerous legislation. 

You know better than we that subjecting members of Georgia's workforce to forced pregnancy is bad for our state. Georgia's economy cannot succeed if over half of its population is subjected to House Bill 481, and businesses cannot continue to attract the best and brightest talent from across the country if repressive and dangerous legislation becomes the law of our land. 

We urge you to speak out now for Georgia's economy and its people. You stood up for our community; please don't be silent now. 

Sincerely, 

Hon. Park Cannon 
Hon. Renitta Shannon 
Hon. Karla Drenner 
Hon. Sam Park 
Hon. Matthew Wilson 
Dan Lovingood, Chair, LGBTQ Caucus of the Democratic Party of Georgia 
Jeff Graham, Executive Director, Georgia Equality 
Edie Cofrin, Human Rights Campaign Foundation Board Member

UPDATE | Marisa Pruitt DeRossett, a board member of Georgia Log Cabin Republicans, said that the opinion expressed in the open letter above "does not represent the LGBTQ community in its entirety." 

This is pandering at its finest," she said in a press release from Georgia Log Cabin Republicans. "This is not an economic issue, as stated by our Democrat counterparts, as most businesses have remained quiet and have allowed Georgians to make decisions that are best for Georgians. Thank you, we applaud you for letting Georgia do what’s best for Georgia."

DeRossett thanked HB 481's sponsor, Rep. Ed Setzler, as well as others who voted for the bill. The House passed the bill on Friday and it will now go to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature.