ATLANTA (AP) — A federal appeals court on Wednesday overturned a lower court ruling, saying Georgia’s restrictive abortion law of 2019 could go into effect immediately. The decision came as no surprise after the US Supreme Court ruled last month that there is no constitutional right to abortion.
Georgia law prohibits most abortions once a “detectable human heartbeat” is present. Heart activity can be detected by ultrasound in cells within an embryo, which eventually becomes the heart as early as the sixth week of pregnancy, before many women realize they are pregnant.
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Georgian law contains exceptions for rape and incest as long as a police report is filed. It also provides for later abortions when the mother’s life is in danger or a serious medical condition renders a fetus unviable.
A three-judge panel of the 11th US Circuit Court of Appeals said a US Supreme Court ruling in a Mississippi case, the Roe v. Wade, paving the way for the law to go into effect by “making it clear that there is no right to abortion under the Constitution for Georgia to ban it.”
The Court of Appeals also rejected arguments that a provision in the statute on “personality” was unconstitutionally vague. Determination gives personality to a fetus and gives it the same legal rights as humans after birth.
As a rule, the court ruling would not come into force for several weeks until an official mandate was issued. But the court issued a second order on Wednesday, allowing the law to go into effect immediately.
A federal judge put the law on hold before it could go into effect, permanently blocking it in July 2020 on the grounds that it was unconstitutional under recently overturned Supreme Court precedent. The state appealed to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, and a three-judge panel on the Circuit Court of Appeals said last fall it would await the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Mississippi case before taking action on Georgia’s appeal.
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The Supreme Court ruled June 24, and Georgia’s Attorney General that afternoon asked the Court of Appeals to overturn the lower court’s ruling and allow the state’s abortion law to go into effect.
The decision of Roe v. Wade in 1973 declared a fundamental right to an abortion before the viability of the fetus. Planned Parenthood v. Casey qualified that in 1992 to say that states must not place undue burdens on women who seek a pre-viability abortion.
Georgia’s so-called Heartbeat law was among a wave of legislation passed by Republican-controlled lawmakers in recent years to challenge those rulings, as anti-abortion activists and lawmakers saw an opportunity in a new conservative majority on the Supreme Court.