Georgia heartbeat abortion law takes effect after ruling

Published: Jul. 20, 2022 at 3:59 PM EDT
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ATLANTA - A federal appeals court has overturned a lower court ruling and says Georgia’s restrictive 2019 abortion law should be allowed to take effect.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said the law will take effect immediately.

“It is the constitutional duty of the Georgia attorney general to defend the laws of our state,” Carr said late Wednesday. “Today, our arguments have prevailed, meaning the 11th circuit has allowed Georgia’s LIFE Act to take effect immediately.”

The Georgia law bans most abortions once a “detectable human heartbeat” is present. Cardiac activity can be detected by ultrasound in cells within an embryo that will eventually become the heart as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

That’s before many women realize they’re pregnant. The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Wednesday that a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a Mississippi case that overturned Roe v. Wade clears the way for the law to take effect.

The Georgia law had been on hold.

The court’s decision comes after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Mississippi’s abortion law that bans the procedure after 15 weeks. That decision, announced June 24, essentially overturns Roe v. Wade, the court’s landmark 1973 ruling which ruled a pregnant woman has the right to choose to an abortion without excessive government restriction.

“We vacate the injunction, reverse the judgment in favor of the abortionists, and remand with instructions to enter judgment in favor of the state officials,” the court announced on Wednesday.

The 11th Circuit’s decision does not take effect until the court’s official mandate is issued, typically 28 days after an appellate court’s decision. Until then, abortion remains legal in Georgia up to 21 weeks and six days of pregnancy, as dated from a patient’s last menstrual period.

In the ruling, the 11th Circuit cited the Supreme Court’s decision and its ruling that “the Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision.”

“Georgia’s prohibition on abortions after detectable human heartbeat is rational,” the ruling continued. “Respect for and preservation of prenatal life at all stages of development” is a legitimate interest.”

“If anyone is providing abortion services now in Georgia they’re probably thinking about shutting it down as soon as possible,” said Alexander Volokh, an associate professor of law at Emory University. “If anyone is planning to get an abortion in Georgia, they should do it now or figure out how to get to Florida.”

Pro-choice supporters issued almost immediate condemnations of the court’s ruling.

“Today’s ruling is yet another consequence of the dangerous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn ‘Roe v. Wade’ and allow politicians to interfere in these personal medical decisions,” said U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, who is facing a re-election challenge this fall from Republican Herschel Walker. “While we may grieve this ruling, we can’t give into despair. Reproductive health care is health care.”

“Abortion bans hurt Black women, low-income folks, and Queer and trans families the most,” said Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. “The women and families of Georgia deserve better. We all deserve better. No matter how long it takes, we are here in this battle until everyone has full bodily autonomy.”

Simpson’s organization had filed a request to halt the six-week ban only days after Gov. Brian Kemp signed it into law.

“We are appalled at the decision of the Federal Court for allowing women’s rights to be threatened in Georgia,” said Gerald Griggs, president of the Georgia NAACP. “There is no middle ground on the issue of women’s rights. This state has chosen to stand against women, and no one will feel the impact of that burden more than Black women.”

On the day of the Supreme Court’s decision, Carr requested the 11th Circuit to lift the injunction that had been filed against the bill, which was passed in 2019 by the Georgia General Assembly. The law, also known as the “heartbeat bill,” had been tied up in courts since Gov. Brian Kemp signed the measure into law.

“I believe in the dignity, value and worth of every human being, both born and unborn,” Carr said in a June 24 statement. “The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs is constitutionally correct and rightfully returns the issue of abortion to the states and to the people – where it belongs. We have just filed a notice in the 11th Circuit requesting it reverse the District Court’s decision and allow Georgia’s Heartbeat Law to take effect.”

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