Georgia 6-week abortion ban reinstated by state Supreme Court

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The Georgia Supreme Court reinstated the state’s ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, just a week after the law was overturned by a Fulton County judge.

In response to an urgent request from the state, the Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a unilateral order staying last week’s lower court’s verdict while it considers an appeal.

In his Nov. 15 decision, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney found that when the so-called “heartbeat statute” went into effect in 2019, it was unconstitutional because the current Roe v. Wade banned abortion. After his ruling, access to abortions in Georgia returned to pre-ban levels of up to 22 weeks gestation.

After Roe v. Wade was overturned in June, states were free to enact legislation banning abortion before the fetus was viable. In states like Georgia, abortion bans have been enacted at six weeks, which is the earliest at which the fetus’ electrical heart activity — unlike the heartbeat of a fully formed organ — can be detected.

Although Wednesday’s order is not the final word on the state’s abortion law, the issuance of the order immediately reinstated the six-week ban. The court denied a request from abortion providers to give 24-hour notice of the ban.

Georgia’s governor signs a Heartbeat Bill, giving the state one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country

Abortion rights groups have criticized Georgia’s law for being extreme, noting that it often bans abortions before people know they are pregnant. Victims requesting an abortion because of rape or incest must file a police report of the assault to receive exemption.

A spokesman for Attorney General Chris Carr (R) said Wednesday the office welcomed the news.

“We are satisfied with the course of action taken by the court today. However, due to the pending appeal, we are unable to comment further,” Kara Richardson, a spokeswoman for Carr’s office, said in an email.

Abortion clinics and reproductive rights groups, which are among the plaintiffs, have criticized the decision, saying it has once again turned the lives of Georgians seeking access to abortion upside down.

“It is outrageous that this extreme law is back in effect just days after it was rightfully blocked,” Alice Wang, attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “This legal ping-pong is causing havoc for medical providers trying to get their jobs done and for patients now desperate to get the abortion services they need.”

When the lower court overturned the ban last week, it was clear to both sides that the decision was tentative. Georgia’s abortion providers cautiously resumed planning abortions up to 22 weeks while anti-abortion lawmakers like Georgia Assemblyman Ed Setzler (R), who authored the state’s abortion law, shrugged last week’s lower court ruling and accurate predicted it would be quickly overturned by the state supreme court.

The future of Georgia’s abortion law is likely to be decided in court rather than in Georgia’s statehouse, where political analysts and historians say lawmakers are weary from the bitter session of 2019 — where the six-week ban passed with a single vote — and ready for others address legislative priorities.

Add to this the recent string of midterm election victories that have demonstrated the widespread popularity of access to abortion.

Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia who specializes in Southern and legislative politics, said abortion bans in the increasingly purple state are likely to cheer deep red grassroots voters but could backfire on the state’s population as a whole.

He cited a recent poll by the School of Public and International Affairs Survey Research Center at the University of Georgia that found a majority of respondents opposed or strongly opposed the state’s six-week abortion ban.

“Nationally, this is not a winning issue,” he said of the abortion restrictions. While this is unlikely to affect local lawmakers in safe counties, fierce opposition to abortion rights “could backfire.” [lawmakers] when they try to run for statewide office.”

Abortion has become a major issue in the Georgia Senate race between incumbent Senator Raphael G. Warnock (D) and Republican challenger Herschel Walker, whose outspoken anti-abortion public stance has met allegations from two women who are in a relationship were with Walker. He urged her to have abortions.

Georgia Republican analyst Brian Robinson said there will be a split among anti-abortion Republicans as more abortion laws are pushed back into the chambers.

“They’re going to have some who want us to go towards Virginia, which is what it’s vying for [a ban at 15-weeks]and some who want to stick to the “heartbeat” standard — and some who favor a total ban,” Robinson said.

But even for those whose opposition to abortion stems from what Robinson said were genuine beliefs about the sanctity of life, they live in a political context.

“It’s not a debate they’d like to have,” he said. “Right now they prefer to talk about solutions for our economy and crime.”

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