Georgia Supreme Court reinstates abortion ban after six weeks

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ATLANTA (TBEN) — Georgia’s Supreme Court on Wednesday reinstated the state’s ban on abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, abruptly ending access to subsequent abortions that had resumed days earlier.

In a one-page order, the judges have put a lower court ruling overturning the ban on hold while they consider an appeal. Doctors who had resumed abortions after six weeks had to stop immediately.

Abortion advocates rejected the order, saying it will traumatize women who must now travel to other states for an abortion or keep their pregnancies. According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, which represents abortion providers challenging the ban, women waiting for an abortion were denied access to the providers.

“It is outrageous that this extreme law is back in force just days after it was rightly blocked,” said Alice Wang, a lawyer at the Center for Reproductive Rights, which also represents the plaintiffs in the case. “This legal ping-pong is causing chaos for medical providers trying to do their jobs and for patients who are now frantically seeking the abortion services they need.”

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The attorney general’s office said in a lawsuit that “untold numbers of unborn children” would “suffer the lasting consequences” if the state Supreme Court did not issue a stay and reverse the Nov. 15 decision by Fulton County Supreme Court Justice Robert McBurney stopped.

McBurney ruled that the state’s abortion ban was invalid because when it was signed into law in 2019, a U.S. Supreme Court precedent established by Roe v. Wade and another ruling allowed abortion for more than six weeks.

The decision immediately banned enforcement of the abortion ban statewide. The state appealed, asking the Supreme Court of Georgia to stay the decision while the appeal continued.

Although abortions had resumed in the past six weeks, some abortion providers said they were proceeding with caution out of concern that the ban could be quickly reinstated.

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Georgia’s ban first took effect in July, after the US Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. It bans most abortions once a “detectable human heartbeat” is present.

Heart activity can be detected by ultrasound in cells in an embryo that will eventually become the heart about six weeks into a pregnancy. That means most abortions in Georgia are effectively banned before many people know they are pregnant.

The measure was passed by the state legislature and signed into law by Republican Governor Brian Kemp in 2019. In his ruling, McBurney said the timing — before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade — immediately invalidated the law. Legislators overstep their authority when they enact laws that violate a constitutional right declared by the judiciary. To enact the law, the state legislature would have to re-pass it, he wrote.

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The Attorney General’s office in an application to the Georgia Supreme Court rejected McBurney’s reasoning because it had “no basis in law, precedent or common sense.”

Plaintiffs’ lawyers defended it in a response, warning of “irreparable harm” to women if it were put on hold. They also asked the Supreme Court for 24 hours’ notice before issuing an adjournment to “avoid the potential chaos” of resuming the ban while women were waiting for or in the process of getting an abortion.

The state Supreme Court did not hold a hearing before issuing its order, and plaintiffs’ attorneys said it denied their request with 24 hours’ notice.

According to the Supreme Court order, seven of the nine justices agreed with the decision. It said one was disqualified and another did not compete.

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