A Georgia judge on Nov. 15 found the state’s ban on abortion unconstitutional and ordered authorities to stop enforcing it.
Georgia House Bill 481, known as the LIFE Act, declared that unborn children are living human beings with rights and banned abortion once a heartbeat was detected.
However, at the time it was enacted, important portions violated the US Constitution and Supreme Court precedent, principally the Roe v. Wade’s 1973 finding that access to abortion was a constitutional right, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney said in a 15-page ruling.
“At that time — the spring of 2019 — anywhere in America, including Georgia, it was clearly unconstitutional for governments — federal, state, or local — to ban abortion before it was feasible,” McBurney said. “And yet, by Section 4, the LIFE Act did just that: A physician faced with a request to terminate a previable pregnancy, i.e., at a time when the fetus could absolutely not survive outside the womb, would a commit crimes when she has complied with her patient’s wishes.”
A federal judge made the same decision in a previous case, but the order was overturned by an appeals court after the Supreme Court overturned Roe in its June ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization. However, under Georgian law, the timing of the adoption of a new law determines the constitutional reviews.
Lawmakers may pass a new ban as Dobbs changed Supreme Court precedent, but “only after our legislature has determined, in the keen light of public attention that will undoubtedly and properly participate in so important and momentous a debate, whether the rights unborn children warrant such a restriction on women’s right to bodily autonomy and privacy,” McBurney said.
He explained that authorities were blocked from enforcing the post-heartbeat abortion ban. Authorities must invoke a previous law that bans abortions after 19 weeks unless a doctor believes an abortion is necessary to avert death or “a serious risk of significant and irreversible physical impairment of an important bodily function of the pregnant woman” or to sustain the life of an unborn child.
Lawsuits challenging the ban came from the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, and other groups.
“We celebrate this victory in Georgia that restores abortion rights and reproductive freedom,” Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood, said in a statement.
Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, a Republican, has already filed a notice saying he will appeal the verdict, a spokesman told news outlets in a statement.
Carr’s office “will continue to fulfill our duty to defend our state’s laws in court,” the spokesman added.
“Today’s verdict puts a judge’s personal beliefs ahead of the will of the legislature and the people of Georgia,” said Georgia Governor’s Office Brian Kemp, another Republican. “The state has already appealed, and we will continue to fight for the lives of Georgia’s unborn children.”