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Court strikes down Georgia’s near-total abortion ban. Governor pledges appeal.

Maggie Lee
Monica Simpson executive director of SisterSong, outside the federal courthouse in Atlanta on Friday. Credit: Maggie Lee Monica Simpson executive director of SisterSong, outside the federal courthouse in Atlanta on Friday. Credit: Maggie Lee
Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong, outside the federal courthouse in Atlanta in June, 2019, at just as her organization, others and several individuals filed suit to stop House Bill 481. Credit: Maggie Lee

By Maggie Lee

A federal judge says a Georgia law that attempts to ban all abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy is unconstitutional. Gov. Brian Kemp says the state will appeal to a higher court.

“… [P]rohibiting a woman  from terminating her pregnancy upon the detection of a fetal heartbeat, constitutes a pre-viability abortion ban,” wrote U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones of the Northern District of Georgia.

And as such, it infringes on a woman’s right to get an abortion before a fetus is viable, he wrote, and declared a 2019 Georgia abortion law unconstitutional.

The part of the law that defined an embryo as a natural person was also unconstitutional, according to the July 13 order.

It’s a huge win for plaintiffs, which include SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective.

“This win is tremendous,” said SisterSong Executive Director Monica Simpson in a press release. “And it is also makes a very bold statement. No one should have to live in a world where their bodies and reproductive decision making is controlled by the state. And we will continue to work to make sure that is never a reality in Georgia or anywhere else.”

So Georgia still has the law it had before 2019: abortion is allowed up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Kemp announced via Twitter his intent to appeal the ruling.

“We will appeal the Court’s decision. Georgia values life, and we will keep fighting for the rights of the unborn,” Kemp wrote.

Opponents of the 2019 law had already announced they would oppose it, even before Kemp signed it. And they predicted success. Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia, said at the time that the law violated 50 years of precedent.

Georgia is one of several Republican-controlled states to try and ban abortion once fetal “cardiac activity” is detectable. That’s at about six or seven weeks of pregnancy. The bills are called in shorthand “heartbeat” bills, though the embryonic heart is not fully formed at six weeks and the sound is not that of a heart.

The federal court in Georgia is only the latest among several to strike down heartbeat bills.

So far, the state has spent $307,187.80 for attorney’s fees and related expenses. If the state ultimately loses, it could be liable for the plaintiffs’ court costs as well.

Documents:

July 13, 2020 order by U.S. District Court for Northern Georgia in SisterSong et. al. v. Kemp

This story has been updated with the state’s court costs so far.

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Maggie Lee
Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

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