On June 25, a protest march in Atlanta protests the Supreme Court ruling in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case. (Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)
ATLANTA – After a Georgia judge ruled Tuesday that the state’s abortion ban was unconstitutional after six weeks, providers across the state who had suspended access to abortion services after fetal heart activity was detected are resuming access to those services .
“This is a huge relief to our patients, our providers, and our frontline workers who have been dealing with the impact of this ban over the past few months,” said Amy Kennedy, vice president of external affairs for Planned Parenthood Southeast. said Yahoo News.
On Tuesday, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney found that the so-called Fetal Heartbeat Act, passed by the Republican Georgia House and Senate in 2019, was void ab initio. The law, HB 481, banned abortions when the state determined that a fetal heartbeat could be detected, which usually takes about six weeks, and Gov. Brian Kemp implemented it after the Supreme Court reversed the Roe v. Wade judgment in June .
McBurney ruled that since the ban was unconstitutional at the time it was passed, it was also invalid after the Supreme Court ruled Roe v. Wade had picked up.
Fulton County Superior Court Justice Robert McBurney at his courthouse in May. (Ben Gray/AP Photo)
“At this time, in the spring of 2019, it was clearly unconstitutional throughout America, including Georgia, for any government — federal, state, or local — to ban abortion prior to feasibility,” McBurney wrote. The Constitution of Georgia prohibits the legislature from passing laws that violate a precedent in the federal constitution. “If the legislature wants to ban abortion, they have to pass a new law,” the judge continued.
Melissa Grant, chief operations officer of Carafem, which runs a national network of abortion providers with a clinic in Georgia, told Yahoo News that the latest ruling, which went into effect immediately, was a “big deal.”
“For people who become pregnant in Georgia and many of the surrounding states, this is giving them a bit of respite from the impact of abortion bans in the South, as they often have to travel great distances to find a healthcare option that they want and that they want honestly deserve it,” she said.
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McBurney’s decision follows a complaint filed in Fulton County in June. A group of lawyers, organizations and doctors providing reproductive health services in Georgia challenged the law in court after the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that HB 481 – which had been blocked when it was passed by a lower federal court – was finally in effect could take effect after Roe v. Wade was lifted.
Protesters demonstrate in Atlanta on June 25 against the Supreme Court’s decision to rule on Roe v. pick up calf. (Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)
Providers say they’ve navigated the bewildering fallout of implementing the law while still trying to help people seeking abortion services. Many providers and women using such services had little time to determine the best course of action once they learned the patient was pregnant.
“The issues that lead people to choose abortion are often complex and intersectional,” Grant said. “These complex problems have not gone away just because lawmakers decided to ban abortion. So this meant that people continued to look, often at great cost and difficulty, for options much further removed from their own communities. And so, as a provider, we were faced with trying to find options for people for whom options were really, really difficult and painful.”
Planned Parenthood Southeast, a network that provides family planning services to people in Alabama and Mississippi and operates four clinics in Georgia, says that prior to the Dobbs decision, its providers performed medical abortions for pregnancies up to 11 weeks (the procedure is legal in Georgia up to legal at this point). about 20 weeks).
According to Planned Parenthood, its providers were devastated because they had to turn patients away as soon as an ultrasound showed fetal heart activity — especially since the restrictions the legislature decided were not based on “medical science or sound science.”
Supporters of Herschel Walker, the GOP nominee for Georgia Senate, on October 11 in Carrollton, Georgia. (Ben Hendren/Bloomberg via Getty Images)
“The consequences of denying an abortion can be deadly, particularly for black women, who experience higher maternal mortality rates than white women because of medical racism and systemic barriers to care,” Kennedy said. “Now we are looking at how we can offer abortions up to 11 weeks again. And in the coming months we hope to expand our services so that patients can be seen to the borders of Georgia.”
In addition to the emotional and logistical struggles, the organizations wrestled with frustration and confusion when the Supreme Court’s ruling came. Providers like Carafem and Planned Parenthood have had to clarify what stopping abortion services after six weeks — a procedure that has been federally protected for nearly 50 years — means for them and their patients.
“They were angry, they were concerned about what this meant for the people they serve: their patients,” Kennedy said. “They were concerned about what this means for them and their families. There has been a lot of confusion as to what services we can provide up until what point in the pregnancy. What steps do we need to take? So [McBurney’s decision] is a truly liberating moment for healthcare providers who have previously been very limited in how they speak to their patients and how they educate their patients about pregnancy.”
In response to the judge’s decision, Kemp’s office objected that the decision “places a judge’s personal beliefs above the will of the Legislature and the people of Georgia,” adding that the Republican governor stands ready to take action.
Georgia Governor Brian Kemp celebrates his re-election on November 8th in Atlanta. (Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
“The state has already appealed, and we will continue to fight for the lives of Georgia’s unborn children,” Kemp’s spokesman Andrew Isenhour told Yahoo News in a statement.
Providers, acknowledging the challenges ahead with the looming appeal and Republican composition of the state legislature, are proceeding with caution. They say they must remain “extraordinarily nimble” in the face of ongoing legal challenges. The Texas example proved a cautionary tale that they take seriously. Abortions there resumed in October 2021 after a federal judge stopped the state’s abortion law, which was similar to that in Georgia. The ban was eventually upheld.
“Unfortunately, we had to become experts in our internal processes and communications, changing information as quickly as possible while maintaining a high level of quality and being sure we were complying with all applicable laws,” Grant said. “We had to change this one quickly, but it was positive. This enabled us to start serving customers older than six weeks within 24 hours. But that requirement to be nimble remains in place and we know this particular law can reverse itself with very little or no notice.”
Planned Parenthood says the latest ruling, while welcome, isn’t as simple as flipping a switch and will take time for the services to ramp up. Carafem said the ruling hasn’t necessarily resulted in an increase in patient numbers, as the organization has already been inundated with calls from people out of town seeking access to abortion treatments.
Carafem Chief Operations Officer Melissa Grant at its Washington, DC headquarters on July 1. (Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/For the Washington Post via Getty Images)
“We’ve already had a circumstance where unfortunately some people have had to wait to get an appointment because we have people traveling to Georgia from the surrounding states and trying to find a place where they can be seen,” lamented Grant. “We were overwhelmed by the number of people in need of care. But that gives a lot more space and allows people to have time to talk to their families and make a decision and get the resources they need a little bit easier.”
Providers stress that even amid the uncertainty, they remain firm in their commitment to providing “safe care” for people seeking abortion services as soon as possible.
“We’re talking to partners and other stakeholders in the state to find out what the landscape is for us given the results of the last election in November,” Grant said. “We are speaking to our supporters and advocates about what they think can be done proactively in the Georgia legislature.”