Georgia Supreme Court upholds six-week abortion ban

Georgia’s six-week abortion ban will remain in place, the state’s Supreme Court ruled on Thursday

Ariana Baio
Tuesday 24 October 2023 10:26 EDT

Georgia governor Brian Kemp signs controversial Heartbeat abortion ban

Georgia’s Supreme Court ruled that the state’s six-week abortion ban was constitutional on Thursday, upholding a ban that severely limits access to the form of reproductive healthcare.

In a 6-1 decision, Georgia’s Supreme Court upheld the ban, which prohibits abortions at six weeks of pregnancy – before most women know they are pregnant.

The highly anticipated ruling comes after nearly a year of back and forth between lower courts in the case of Georgia v SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective.

Plaintiffs argued that the state’s law violated Georgia’s constitutional requirement that statutes cannot violate the law. When the law was passed in 2019, abortion was legal in the state.

It wasn’t until the Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade in June 2022 that the law went into effect.

In response, the state argued that it didn’t matter when the law was passed but that it is now aligned with the current law.

Last November, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney initially decided the law was unconstitutional and blocked it temporarily. However, eight days later the Georgia Supreme Court reinstated the law while awaiting a decision.

In their decision, the Georgia Supreme Court argued that the lower court “erred” in the decision saying it cannot render a law void from the beginning or “ab initio”

“The holdings of United States Supreme Court cases interpreting the United States Constitution that have since been overruled cannot establish that a law was unconstitutional when enacted,” the Georgia Supreme Court said in its ruling.

Protestors march and chant in Downtown Atlanta, in opposition to Georgia's new abortion law on July 23, 2022

In the majority opinion, written by Justice Verda Colvin, the court argued that they were addressing challenges to the law under a post-Dobbs world since Roe is no longer the precedent.

Georgia is now among 12 states that have passed and upheld so-called “fetal heartbeat bills” which claim the six-week point in gestation is the point at which fetal heartbeat is detectable – though this fact is disputed among the American Medical Association and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

The law, nicknamed the LIFE Act, mandates a penalty for doctors who perform the procedure. It does make exceptions for abortion in the case of rape or incest, so long a woman is less than 20 weeks gestation, but requires a police report.

The implications of restrictive access to abortion care can lead to medical, emotional and physical trauma, something several women in Texas have testified to when they were denied abortion care.

“Today’s decision will cause irreparable harm to the people of Georgia, the majority of whom want abortion to be legal,” Carol McDonald, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates said in a press release.

Ms McDonald said Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates intends to hold lawmakers accountable for “the public health crisis they’ve created” across Georgia.

Monica Simpson, the executive director of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective said the ruling was “devastating.”

“This abortion ban has forced Georgians to travel across state lines at great expense or continue the life-altering consequences of pregnancy and childbirth against their wills. In a state that already has OB/GYN deserts, one of the highest maternal mortality rates, especially for us as Black women, and cruel anti-trans legislation, this decision only further disregards us, our bodily autonomy, and our lives,” Ms Simpson said.

Ms Simpson, like Ms McDonald, vowed to continue fighting for “reproductive justice”.

Now, the case will return to Fulton County Superior Court where Judge McBurney will consider the plaintiff’s other arguments as to why the six-week ban should be lifted.

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