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Abortion: Supreme Court ruling to determine Georgia law, influence campaigns

Justices, U.S. Supreme Court. (File/Photo by Fred Schilling, Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States.)

By David Pendered

Georgia has major interests at stake in the abortion lawsuit the U.S. Supreme Court is to hear Wednesday. The verdict is to impact Georgia’s “heartbeat bill” and is likely to resonate through the state’s 2022 campaigns.

Justices are to hear arguments in Mississippi’s call for the court to overturn Roe v. Wade and a 1992 case that upheld Roe. Roe is the seminal 1973 ruling that gives women most of the rights in abortion decisions.

Mississippi is appealing a ruling that overturned a law that intends to ban virtually all abortions after the 15th week following the last known menstrual cycle. The court is expected to issue a ruling before the last day of this session, June 30, 2022.

The Supreme Court chose the Mississippi case to revisit the abortion issue. The court has agreed to consider one question: “Whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”

Georgia’s “heartbeat bill” bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, generally in the sixth week of pregnancy. Gov. Brian Kemp signed House Bill 481 in 2019, the Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act.

In 2020, a U.S. District Court judge in Atlanta barred the law’s implementation. Georgia appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta, where the most recent events were oral arguments presented Sept. 24, and a one-sentence ruling issued Sept. 27:

  • “We STAY this appeal pending a decision of the Supreme Court of the United States in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, No. 19-1392 (2021).”

Georgia has put the full force of the state behind Mississippi’s appeal. Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr signed a friend of the court brief written by Republican-led Texas and signed by Republican attorneys general for 17 additional states.

The brief criticizes the judge who overturned the Mississippi law, in addition to supporting Mississippi’s abortion law. The Republican attorneys general ask justices to “denounce the judge’s baseless aspersions” on the Mississippi Legislature:

  • “The district court tarnished Mississippi’s abortion regulation as the product of decades-old racism and sexism.”

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, who overturned the Mississippi law, is Black and was appointed by then-President Obama. Reeves‘ observations on Mississippi’s Legislature include this comment:

  • “The Mississippi Legislature has a history of disregarding the constitutional rights of its citizens….” The ruling cited court rulings that struck down state laws that prohibited same-sex marriage; abortions in the early part of the second trimester; adoption by same-sex couples; and an elections law conceived in “furtherance of racial discrimination.”

The political ramifications of the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Mississippi case could unfold quickly in Georgia.

Georgia’s primary election is set for May 24, 2022, for seats from U.S. Senate through governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and down the ballot. A primary runoff, if needed, is called for June 21, 2022.

In Georgia’s General Assembly campaigns, the abortion issue could be pointed, especially as the Supreme Court ruling could open the door to greater state control over abortion. Candidates could call for tightening or, conversely, removing the state’s six-week ban on abortion that is pending appeal. Georgia is among 26 states that are certain or likely to ban abortion if Roe were overturned or fundamentally weakened, according to an Oct. 28 report by the Guttmacher Institute.

Fifty eight Georgia lawmakers have joined a total of 896 state lawmakers nationwide who have filed a brief asking the U.S. Supreme Court to uphold abortion rights.

Meantime, Senate Pro Tem Butch Miller (R-Gainesville) has said he’s drafting anti-abortion legislation. As of Sunday, Miller has pre-filed a bill to repeal the state income tax but has not submitted a bill on abortion, according to the Legislature’s website.

In Georgia’s U.S. Senate campaign, the issue could arise as pressure mounts behind the #ExpandTheCourt movement, calling on Congress to add justices and term limits to offset conservatives appointed by President Trump. The latest call from some former Obama staffers, now with Demand Justice, came last week after the court did not issue an expected ruling on a Texas abortion law that has halted abortions in that state.

Evangelical Protestant voters could be mobilized by any ruling. The group represents about 38 percent of adults in Georgia, according to the latest report by Pew Research Center.

Nationwide, 67 percent of born-again or evangelical Protestants say abortion should be illegal in most cases. Included in this group are 26 percent of respondents who say abortion should be illegal in all cases. This compares to a national figure of 57 percent of Americans who believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to a survey conducted in June by AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

These voters could be energized Tuesday, the day before the court hearing on the Mississippi case, by Mike Pence. The pro-life former vice president is slated to address the National Press Club and then join a fireside chat with Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, according to Pence’s Twitter account and the SBA website.

 

 

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David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.

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