Boycotts and Georgia’s Heartbeat Bill
By Charles Bowen
As every parent knows, children’s fairy tales and fables are often founts of considerable insight and wisdom.
“The Emperor’s New Clothes” sheds considerable light on politicians who vainly strut on the state and national stage. “Cinderella” contains valuable lessons regarding the mistreatment of the poor. It is one of Aesop’s Fables that is most directly relevant to today’s headlines, however: “The Goose That Laid the Golden Eggs.”
The story recounts the tale of a farmer who owned a goose that laid a solid gold egg every morning. While these eggs made the farmer a wealthy man, he still wanted more. “Then one day the idea came to him that he could get all the golden eggs at once by killing the goose and cutting it open. But when the deed was done, not a single golden egg did he find and his precious goose was dead.”
The state of Georgia has its own such rare and valuable goose. It is our film and television industry, and we have fed and cared for it well. Due to a combination of economic incentives, workforce development, and commitment to infrastructure, Georgia has become one of the most preferred destinations in the world for film and television productions.
Over the past several years, these productions have had an economic impact in our state of roughly $10 billion annually. Locally, we hosted approximately 200 professional film and television productions in 2018 that accounted for $250 million in direct spending in Chatham County alone.
The question our state faces now, however, is whether the passage of Georgia’s “heartbeat bill” may result in a costly boycott by the film and television industry. Such a boycott has been threatened by several actors and professional organizations.
For those unfamiliar, the proposed law would ban abortion as soon as a doctor can detect a fetal heartbeat, which typically happens around six weeks into a pregnancy. This law would be one of the most extreme abortion bans in the country, particularly considering that most women do not even realize they are pregnant at six weeks. As of this writing, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has not yet signed the Georgia legislation, but there is little doubt that he will do so.
There is almost unanimous agreement, even among its proponents, that the law is patently unconstitutional. It is specifically designed to attempt to get the question of abortion rights back before a U.S. Supreme Court that is now stacked with conservatives. The real goal is to overturn Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1974 decision that legalized abortion nationwide. But it is a long way to the Supreme Court, and every effort to pass a similar bill in other states (18 at last count) has been struck down before it has reached that level.
It is this legal layer of protection that I believe is likely to temper any threatened boycott from the entertainment industry. While there will certainly be action and anger from some, it is unlikely to result in an industry-wide consensus to boycott the state of Georgia unless and until a fetal heartbeat bill were to survive the inevitable court challenge and actually go into effect.
By way of analogy, imagine if the Savannah City Council enacted a local ordinance stating that no one over six feet tall was allowed to own a local business. While such an action would obviously inspire immediate anger, most reasonable people would understand that due to our system of legal checks and balances, there would no need for panic because of the certainty that such an unenforceable ordinance would be immediately struck down by the courts.
As far as the heartbeat bill, the vast majority of the entertainment industry will likely wait and see what ultimately happens. But they will absolutely be taking notes.