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Litigation begins over Georgia’s near-total abortion ban

By Maggie Lee

With a lawsuit on Friday by a group of plaintiffs, Georgia joined the list of mostly Republican-led states that have been brought to federal court over moves to cut the amount of time that people can seek abortions.

SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective is the lead plaintiff on a list that includes individual Georgia doctors plus groups who provide abortions.

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

“We look forward to continuing to push reproductive justice across this state and this nation,” said SisterSong Executive Director Monica Simpson on Friday, just after the federal lawsuit was filed by counsel from the ACLU of Georgia.

Simpson and several others who spoke at a Friday press conference said they look forward to seeing Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp in court.

“So that we know and we can ensure that everyone’s human right to their own self-determination, to their own ability to make their own decisions about their reproductive lives, is secured,” Simpson said.

Georgia’s House Bill 481 bans abortion in most cases after about six weeks of gestational age, which is before most women realize they’re pregnant. There’s an exception for cases of rape or incest. Georgia law now allows abortion until about 20 weeks of gestational age.

Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana and Ohio have also passed new abortion restrictions this year.  Alabama passed a law that bans abortions at any stage of pregnancy.

So far, federal courts in Kentucky and Mississippi and have temporarily suspended those new laws while lawsuits play out. Legal challenges are underway in the other states.

Supporters of Georgia’s new law agree it’s an important change — but say that it’s a good one. One thing the law technically does is confer “personhood” on the developing embryo inside a womb after six weeks.

The bill protects helpless unborn children from a violent death and recognizes the human rights they deserve, bill sponsor Ed Setzler, an Acworth Republican, wrote on Twitter on Friday morning.

“With 19 million black children killed since 1973, I’m sad that SisterSong is suing to continue the killing,” he wrote.

The Georgia Department of Law has retained a special assistant attorney general to handle the HB 481 matter, Jeffery M. Harris of Consovoy McCarthy PLLC.

ACLU attorneys will ask the court to stop implantation of the law while the case plays out. The law is otherwise scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2020.

These challenges across the country could take years, if a 2016 Alabama case is any indication. That year, Alabama passed what’s effectively a ban on abortions after 15 weeks. It was challenged in court, and  just last week, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up a lower court’s decision striking down that law.

Staci Fox has been watching that Alabama case especially closely. She’s executive director of Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates — Alabama is part of her territory.

“We’ve been in federal court a number of times with the state of Alabama. And today, the state of Alabama owes the ACLU of Alabama $2 million for defending this case,” Fox said on Friday.

As for the prospect of Georgia writing any check to the ACLU?

“Generally in these civil rights actions, we are entitled to seek legal fees if we prevail in court,” ACLU attorney Sean Young said.

Documents:
Initial filing by ACLU counsel on behalf of SisterSong and other plaintiffs

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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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