What Happens Now With Georgia’s 2019 Anti-Abortion Law?

by Ross Williams, Georgia Recorder This article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder and is republished with permission
June 24, 2022

This story was updated on Friday June 24, 2022 at 5:45 p.m.

Friday’s Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Repealing Wade ushered in a major shift in Georgians’ future approach to abortion, but exactly how that shift will play out remains to be seen.

Abortion remains legal in Georgia up to the 20th week of pregnancy, but that is likely to change.

Lawmakers passed legislation in 2019 banning the vast majority of abortions once fetal cardiac activity is detected, which is usually about six weeks into a pregnancy and before many women know they are pregnant.

However, this law never came into force. In 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia ruled that the bill was unconstitutional and blocked its enactment after a lawsuit brought by the ACLU of Georgia, which represents the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective and other providers.

The state appealed the ruling to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which adjourned its proceedings pending the Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs.

Following the decision, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr quickly filed a memorandum Friday afternoon, urging the court to let the law go into effect.

“I believe in the dignity, worth and worth of every human being, both born and unborn,” Carr said in a statement. “The US Supreme Court decision in Dobbs is constitutionally correct and rightfully returns the issue of abortion to the states and the people – where it belongs.

Instead, the court directed the parties in the case to file additional written briefs within 21 days addressing the impact the Supreme Court’s decision would have on the state’s appeal.

“Despite Attorney General Carr’s race to the courthouse, abortion is safe and legal in Georgia for the foreseeable future. The ACLU of Georgia will continue to defend the rights of Georgian women against forced pregnancy,” Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia, who is representing the plaintiffs in the case, said in a statement Friday night.

There is little preventing the court from implementing the law immediately, said Tangi Bush, director of legal affairs for the New Georgia Project, on Friday afternoon.

“Considering the fact that the SisterSong v. Kemp hearing was heard in September 2021, there is nothing to indicate that an opinion has not already been written,” she said. “It just has to be submitted. Nothing additional needs to happen before the 11th Circuit makes a decision on this because they have already heard the arguments, reviewed the briefs and so on.”

But just because it might come soon doesn’t mean it will, she added.

“That doesn’t necessarily mean it will be right away. It doesn’t necessarily mean it will be tomorrow, it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be in a month. But at this point there is nothing stopping them because all they did was drop the case and grant HB 481 a permanent injunction.”

Once the court acts, abortion providers would have to comply with the law immediately.

“The moment they issue an order in this case, if they actually lift the restraining order, an order becomes effective the moment it’s filed, so it would have an immediate impact on Georgia activities,” said Bush.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp said he hopes so, calling Friday’s Supreme Court decision “a historic victory for life” in a statement.

“I look forward to its impact on the court proceedings related to Georgia’s LIFE Act and hope that our law will be fully implemented and ultimately protect countless unborn lives here in the Peach State,” Kemp said in a statement. “Working closely with the General Assembly, we have made significant strides to stand up for life at all ages – from adoption and care reform to fighting human trafficking and passing the Heartbeat Act – and we will continue this important work in days and months to come.”

Kemp’s opponent in this year’s election, Democrat Stacey Abrams, predicted the move would come in a matter of weeks.

“If you’re a woman in Georgia, you should be scared by now,” Abrams said in a Friday call to reporters. “In this state, the law of the country will soon be — and I think it will be a matter of weeks before the Supreme Court decision is entered, before Dobbs is entered and before the 11th Circuit relinquishes its hold on Kemp’s forced pregnancy law, but.” what will happen is that women in this state will not have access to the kind of reproductive care they need.”

“I think the law is vague. I think it’s a mistake. I think it’s mean spirited. And unfortunately I think the current composition of the court strongly suggests that in a matter of weeks it will be the law of the country,” she added.

Jill Nolin, Associate Editor of Georgia Recorder, contributed to this report.

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