Judge overturns Georgia abortion ban after about 6 weeks

A judge overturned Georgia’s abortion ban from about six weeks pregnant, ruling on Tuesday that it violated the U.S. Constitution and U.S. Supreme Court precedent when it was signed into law and that it was therefore nil.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney’s decision took effect immediately statewide, although the state attorney general’s office announced plans to appeal. The ban had been in effect since July.

It prohibited most abortions once a “detectable human heartbeat” was present. Cardiac activity can be detected by ultrasound in the cells of an embryo that will eventually become the heart as early as the sixth week of pregnancy. This means that most abortions in Georgia were effectively banned at some point before many women knew they were pregnant.

McBurney’s decision came amid a lawsuit filed in July by doctors and advocacy groups seeking to overturn the ban on several grounds, including that it violates the right to privacy and liberty. of the Georgian Constitution by forcing pregnancy and childbirth on women in the state. McBurney did not comment on this claim.

Instead, his ruling agreed with a different argument made in the lawsuit — that the ban was invalid because it violated the U.S. Constitution and U.S. Supreme Court precedent at the time it was become law.

Kara Richardson, spokeswoman for Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, said in an email that the office intends to pursue an “immediate appeal.”

The Georgia law was passed by state lawmakers and signed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in 2019, but stalled until the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which protected the right to abortion for nearly 50 years.

The US 11th Circuit Court of Appeals allowed Georgia to begin enforcing its abortion law just over three weeks after the High Court’s June ruling.

Abortion clinics across the state remained open, but providers said they were turning away many women because heart activity had been detected. These women could then either travel to another state to have an abortion or continue their pregnancy.

During a two-day trial in October, abortion providers told McBurney the ban caused distress to women who were denied the procedure and confusion among doctors.

McBurney wrote in his ruling that when the law was enacted, “anywhere in America, including Georgia, it was unequivocally unconstitutional for governments – federal, state, or local – to ban pre-viability abortions.”

He wrote that the state law “did not become the law of Georgia when it was enacted and it is not the law of Georgia now.”

The state had argued that the Roe decision itself was wrong, and the Supreme Court decision struck it down.

McBurney left the door open for the state legislature to review the ban.

Now that the Supreme Court has overturned Roe v. Wade said the abortion ban in the 2019 law “may one day become the law of Georgia,” he wrote.

But, he wrote, that can only happen after the General Assembly “determines under the keen gaze of public scrutiny who will undoubtedly and properly attend such an important and consequential debate whether the rights unborn children justify such a restriction of women’s right to bodily autonomy”. and privacy.

Georgia’s ban included exceptions for rape and incest, provided a police report was filed, and allowed subsequent abortions when the mother’s life was in danger or a serious medical condition rendered a non-viable fetus.

At the October trial, witnesses for the state disputed the claim that the law was unclear about when doctors could step in to perform a subsequent abortion. They also argued that abortions themselves could harm women.

Abortion was a central issue in Georgia’s US Senate contest between Democrat Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker, which is now heading to a runoff in December. Two women have accused Walker, who opposes abortion, of paying for them to have the procedure. Walker vehemently denied this.

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