The US 11th District Court of Appeals on Friday heard oral arguments on Georgia’s controversial HB 481 Act, also known as the Heartbeat Bill, for prohibiting abortion after a doctor could determine a fetus’s heartbeat.

The judges have been cautious about moving the case forward, however, as the US Supreme Court will seize the Dobbs v Jackson women’s health organization, a Mississippi case that bans most abortions after 15 weeks.

Georgia’s constitutional law would prohibit most abortions once a doctor could determine the fetus’s heart activity – usually around six weeks after pregnancy. Critics say that many women don’t know they are pregnant until the first trimester, which means the law essentially boils down to a total ban on abortion.

Georgia’s restrictive law is on par with recently enacted Texas law, which also bans abortion after just six weeks and has sparked outrage among reproductive rights advocates.

Friday’s hearing also took place at the same time the US House of Representatives was passing laws that would create a legal right to abortion for health professionals – a move amid the deepening struggle for abortion rights.

Judge William H. Pryor Jr. interviewed attorneys on both sides about the possibility of moving the case forward while the Supreme Court decision would set a legal precedent in the coming months.

“If it were to uphold this law, we would have to really think carefully about how the Supreme Court’s decision applies here,” said Pryor.

“I think that’s the sensible course of action,” he added. “Don’t you think we should really do this? I mean, it doesn’t happen every day that we get the Supreme Court – in fact, we can allow the Supreme Court to do something for us. “

Both the prosecutor and plaintiffs recognized the potential importance of the upcoming Supreme Court decision as a precedent.

The Georgia ACLU and a coalition of abortion rights activists sued the state in 2019 after lawmakers passed HB 481, which gives a short time limit for a woman to have an abortion. It also includes a language that proponents refer to as “personality”, which gives legal rights to fertilized eggs.

The law has been blocked in lower courts and prevented from going into effect. Mississippi law has also been blocked by lower courts, but is now set to challenge a woman’s constitutional right to abortion, as proposed by Roe v. Wade is confirmed.

Georgia’s bill sparked an outcry from abortion rights advocates who described it as a direct attack on women’s rights by Republican lawmakers.

“This case is about letting ‘them’ decide,” ACLU Georgia legal director Sean Young told GPB News. “Let women decide for themselves when to start or expand a family, and let women make their own health decisions.”

Attorney Jeffrey Harris argued for the state that in addition to strict abortion restrictions, there are regulations that would have a positive impact on women in Georgia.

Georgian lawmakers have passed common sense provisions for the welfare of the fetus, “he argued,” including one that would encourage absent fathers to pay child support during pregnancy and another that would give pregnant women valuable tax breaks. “

The ACLU argued that no provision of the law should be upheld if any aspect is found unconstitutional.

“If there is a law under Georgian law that is unconstitutional and other provisions of the law are really just a kind of scaffolding for the central purpose of this law, then those other parts of the law should also be dropped,” Young said.

Subasri Narasimhan, Professor of Public Health at Emory University, studied the bill from its introduction under the Gold Dome to its journey into the judicial system.

In GPB’s Political Rewind, she said that “ideologically motivated abortion restrictions” like Georgian law can cause significant harm to women, especially women on low incomes and women of color.

“There is a lot of unknowns when we think of these kinds of strictly restrictive abortion laws,” she said. “But what we can say is that bills like this are really a human rights violation. Getting someone to have a pregnancy that they are not prepared for or that they do not want is basically the opposite of reproductive justice and a grave human rights violation. “

“There is no medical or scientific basis for doing calculations like this,” she added. “And there are no advantages for the state of Georgia either.”

Georgia’s six-week abortion ban is still stalled in legal proceedings.

It wasn’t immediately clear when the federal appeals court could make its decision, unless the judges likely seemed to be waiting for the Supreme Court to rule on the Mississippi case for the first time, which is not expected until next summer.

This story comes to The Current GA through a coverage partnership with GPB News, a nonprofit newsroom that covers the state of Georgia.