A court decision ordering the immediate entry into force of Georgia’s anti-abortion law on Wednesday has left a trail of uncertainty and unanswered questions.
The state’s abortion providers, who expected the law to go into effect later in the summer, had to quickly adjust to a drastically shortened abortion window on Wednesday.
The law that narrowly passed in 2019 HB481, bans most abortions once the fetus’s heart activity is detected — which is usually around six weeks and before many women know they’re pregnant. Before Wednesday, Georgians could have abortions up to almost 22 weeks in some cases.
Planned Parenthood Southeast’s four Georgia clinics will continue to offer medical abortions, right now for up to six weeks. The Feminist Women’s Health Center in Atlanta also said it will continue to provide abortion services before fetal heart activity is detected and provide care in some emergencies, stressing on social media that “early abortion is still legal in Georgia.”
The new law’s shortened timeline means it’s now important to take a pregnancy test as early as possible, said Lauren Frazier, director of communications for Planned Parenthood Southeast.
“The earliest the pregnancy test can be done is from the first day of a missed period. This means you are already 4 weeks away and only have 2 weeks to find out you are pregnant, make a decision and book an appointment with an abortion provider. After that, you have a choice of staying pregnant or leaving the state to seek treatment,” Frazier said.
For someone just seven weeks old, that could mean a trip to North Carolina or Florida abortionfinder.org.
Georgian law only allows a few exceptions: in the case of incest or rape – if the patient can file a complaint – or if a woman’s life is in danger.
But the law does much more than ban most abortions after six weeks. Wednesday’s verdict also enabled the enactment of the so-called personhood language of the law, which allowed expectant parents to claim their offspring as dependent minors while still in utero and to redefine the “natural person” to include an unborn child.
The verdict even seemed to catch some government agencies unprepared.
“The Department has been actively monitoring this legislation and is refining the guidance in light of yesterday’s court decision. We will release more information as soon as we can,” Mason Rainey, spokesman for the state department of revenue, said when asked Thursday about how the income tax rule would work.
The language of the person in the law is likely to have far-reaching and far-reaching implications for Georgia’s state code — the magnitude of which will take time to understand, says Anthony Michael Kreis, a professor of constitutional law at Georgia State University.
Kreis said he believes the court’s ruling was correct in dismissing a challenge that the personality provision was unconstitutionally vague.
“This is an incredibly comprehensive new definition,” Kreis said on Thursday. “And changing all civil and criminal laws in Georgia to redefine the person in this way is a drastic departure from the status quo. But just because it’s a big change doesn’t necessarily mean it’s vague, and I think people are concerned by this tremendous amount of change, and that’s understandable.
“For me, this is not a vagueness problem. It’s just a political issue,” he said.
Kreis argues that there are many unanswered questions, including whether a woman could be screened for a miscarriage, whether a pregnant woman with an eating disorder is committing child abuse — and whether the state should be alerted under mandatory reporting requirements — and whether it is a wrongful death penalty could be prosecuted against a Georgian who travels abroad for an abortion.
Would an eight-week-old woman who purchases abortion drugs in another state commit murder if she brought the drugs back to Georgia soil?
“These are things that we will only find out over time through law enforcement and litigation,” Kreis said. “None of these questions are vague to me. The answer to all of these things is ‘yes’.”
Elizabeth Reed, executive director of the Georgia Life Alliance, an anti-abortion advocacy group, on Martha Zoller’s Gainesville-based radio show on Thursday called talk of prosecuted women “fear-mongering.” Reed also expressed concern about how the law would affect the medical community’s ability to treat miscarriages and ectopic pregnancies, arguing that these are not abortions.
Zoller is a director of the Georgia Life Alliance.
“I don’t know how many interviews I’ve had in the last few days,” said Zoller on the show. “where I was like, ‘Look, stop putting the hair on the lighter. Let’s just implement this bill. Lets see what happens. Let’s look at it objectively. There will probably be things we need to change next year. There will probably be things we need to work on. But what I’ve seen from this legislature is that they are willing to do it.”
In the meantime, Kreis expects the lawsuit to be filed in state courts.
State Senator Jen Jordan, an Atlanta Democrat running for attorney general, has said she would file a lawsuit in the state courts if she were elected the state’s chief prosecutor to see if Georgia’s right to privacy could block the law , although someone else might do this, suggested she do so. Leading Georgia Democrats like Stacey Abrams, who is running for governor, say they believe such a challenge could still stand a chance of overturning the law.
“The 11th Circuit’s decision, while disappointing, is not unexpected,” Jordan said in a statement immediately after the ruling was announced. “We now know the order. The US Supreme Court said this fight belongs in the states, so we need to challenge this law in the states courts, and we need to elect the state leaders who will protect access to reproductive health care.”