Fulton County DA requests Georgia’s heartbeat law to be sent to lower courts

Published: Jul. 15, 2022 at 6:04 PM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - In a letter filed on behalf of Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis on Friday, Willis is asking the United States Court of Appeals For the Eleventh Circuit to send Georgia’s “heartbeat law” back down to the lower courts.

In the document submitted by Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC, it says, “As such, while District Attorney Willis did not assert any affirmative claims in the underlying litigation, District Attorney Willis believes that this case should be returned to the lower court to allow the parties the opportunity to address the merits of the claims in a post-Dobbs context.”

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The filing goes on to say, “District Attorney Willis does not believe that Dobbs has an impact on those aspects of the Judgment that addressed vagueness in the challenged law.”

Friday marked the deadline legal briefs were due to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals that would address the effect the US Supreme Court’s decision on abortion has on Georgia’s “Heartbeat Law” - HB 481 also called the “Life Act.”

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While abortion is currently legal up until about 20 weeks in Georgia, the new law would ban it after around six. It specifically says the full value of a child begins at the moment a fetal heartbeat is detected, and any abortion after six weeks would be considered homicide in this state.

“I think in a matter of weeks we will get some kind of ruling from the court, whether it’s allowing the six-week ban to go into place, but putting the personhood element aside,” said Anthony Kreis, Georgia State University College of Law assistant professor.

Attorneys on both sides have now had the full 21 days since the US Supreme Court ruling to make their argument to Georgia’s 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. While the court is not bound by a timeline on a decision, don’t expect a long wait.

“Right now, the consensus among constitutional law people is that this should be a quick turnaround,” said Darren Hutchinson, Emory University law professor.

The complicated decision, made easier by the US Supreme Court ruling, is now in the hands of a three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in Atlanta.

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“It’s certainly a much more conservative panel of judges than what I think abortion advocates would want. And so I think it’s really unlikely you’ll see this delayed for a long time, but again it’s entirely possible given how complicated Georgia’s law is compared to some states, it might take some additional proceedings,” said Kreis.

But confusion still surrounds how the law would be implemented if it takes effect.

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“Countless issues where we have no idea how the law would apply to these areas. We don’t even really necessarily know where they would apply and that creates a procedural due process problem,” said Shlomo Pill, Emory University Constitutional Law Lecturer.

Atlanta city council members and also the Dekalb County District Attorney have said they do not plan on allocating any resources from the police department or courts in prosecuting abortion cases as a crime.