Judge refuses to block Georgia abortion law

Superior Court of Fulton County refuses to block state’s controversial heartbeat bill while another lawsuit proceeds
Atlanta City Councilmembers will weigh idea of setting aside money to help fund women's access...
Atlanta City Councilmembers will weigh idea of setting aside money to help fund women's access to abortion(CBS46 News)
Published: Aug. 15, 2022 at 2:12 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 15, 2022 at 3:38 PM CDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - Georgia’s six-week abortion ban, also known as the heartbeat law, is being allowed to stand.

On Monday, the Superior Court of Fulton County declined to place an injunction on the law while a lawsuit challenging the ban’s constitutionality made its way through the courts.

Georgia’s six-week abortion was challenged in the 11th Circuit of Appeals shortly after Gov. Brian Kemp signed H.B. 481 into law in 2019, and the law had remained blocked as the case made its way through the federal courts.

“The Court is making no finding on the merits of this important litigation,” Judge Robert McBurney wrote, adding he does not have the authority to issue a preliminary injunction and block the law at this stage of the lawsuit. “The question of whether it is constitutional for the State to force a woman to carry to term a six-week-old embryo against her wishes, even in the face of serious medical risk, remains to be answered. Until it is, however, the LIFE Act remains in effect.”

Three weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the court lifted the law’s injunction. The court also allowed the law to go into effect immediately.

Abortion providers and advocates filed a new state constitutional challenge one week later and asked the court to immediately block the ban while the lawsuit proceeds, which led to Monday’s ruling.

Pro-choice advocates who had joined in the latest lawsuit were critical of Monday’s decision.

“We are deeply disappointed that the court is allowing our state’s extreme six-week abortion ban to remain in effect and is putting thousands of Georgians in danger by denying them essential health care,” said Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, the lead plaintiff in the case. “Our vision for Georgia is that everyone including Queer, trans, and low-income people have the freedom to decide to have children, to not have children, and to raise the families they have in thriving communities.”

Read Monday’s decision here.

“Today’s decision is completely out of step with what the majority of Georgians want, which is to be able to make decisions about their own lives, families, and futures,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “Extreme abortion bans like this one and worse are being enforced across the country, with more to come at the end of the month. This fight is long, but it isn’t over.”

“The court’s decision declining to block the abortion ban is extremely disappointing and leaves in place a law that severely compromises the quality of women’s healthcare in the state of Georgia,” said Andrea Young, executive director of ACLU of Georgia. “Ultimately, the power is with Georgia voters to affirm our right to privacy and to make personal, private and intimate decisions without government interference.”

The most recent legal challenge is arguing Georgia’s six-week abortion law was void from the start under Georgia judicial precedent because it violated federal constitutional precedent when enacted in 2019, and a subsequent change in federal law cannot revive it.

The lawsuit also said, “the Georgia Constitution’s especially strong protection for the fundamental right to privacy prohibits this political interference with an individual’s deeply personal and medically consequential decision whether to continue a pregnancy.”

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Groups participating in the challenge include the American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Georgia; Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Southeast; the Atlanta Comprehensive Wellness Clinic; the Atlanta Women’s Medical Center, and others.

Last week’s hearing focused on whether the judge has the power to block the law temporarily while the litigation plays out and whether the law was invalid from the start because it violated the U.S. Constitution and U.S. Supreme Court precedent when it was enacted.

Abortion in Georgia had been legal up to 20 weeks after conception.