Georgia’s abortion laws could be impacted by upcoming Supreme Court rulings

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Dec. 1 on one of the most significant abortion cases in years, and the aftereffects of its ruling will be felt here in Georgia.

The case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has drawn more than 1,000 friend-of-the-court briefs so far — including one from Georgia — on both sides of the issue. 

The case revolves around Mississippi’s abortion law, which bans the procedure after 15 weeks. That is nine weeks fewer than the 24-week precedent established by Roe v. Wade in 1973.

Georgia’s brief was organized by the State Innovation Exchange’s Reproductive Freedom Leadership Council, which describes itself as a “network of state legislators working to advance reproductive health, rights and justice.” 

The brief argues the Supreme Court’s failure to uphold the rule of law and precedent would result in disastrous consequences for women seeking abortions, as well as for their families.  

“State legislators are the first line of defense against policies that deliberately roll back progress on abortion rights and reproductive health across the country, and the overwhelming majority of the public agrees we must protect Roe v. Wade,” said the organization’s Jennifer Driver. “With this amicus brief, nearly 900 legislators are sending the Supreme Court a clear message: We cannot go back. You must uphold 50 years of legal abortion in all 50 states.”  

Georgia’s abortion law is currently tied up in the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is waiting on the Supreme Court decision before issuing a ruling. Known as the Living Infants Fairness Equality Act, it seeks to prevent abortions after a fetal heartbeat has been detected, typically six weeks into pregnancy, except in special situations.

Lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights led the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia in December 2019 to rule the law unconstitutional. The legislation, which the General Assembly passed earlier that year, had been scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

If the 11th Circuit decides to strike down Georgia’s abortion law in the case — SisterSong v. Kemp — Georgia could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which may then look at the law’s constitutionality and reexamine the precedent of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion on demand.

“A Georgia judge struck down Republicans’ HB (House Bill) 481 last year because the court saw it for what it was — an unconstitutional infringement on the right to choose — and we hope the 11th Circuit Court agrees,” said Rebecca Galanti, spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Georgia. “Democrats will continue to fight at every turn to safeguard reproductive freedom and stop Republicans’ dangerous anti-choice agenda in Georgia.”

State Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, disagrees.

“I’ve never subscribed to the idea that it’s unconstitutional to save human lives,” said Miller, who is running for lieutenant governor in 2022 and who also helped author the bill. “With today’s technology, it’s no longer possible to deny the clear humanity of unborn children, even at early stages of pregnancy. Upholding Georgia’s law would send a clear message that we as a society will protect our most vulnerable and defenseless.”

State lawmakers adjourned Nov. 22 after spending several weeks in special session, redrawing legislative and congressional district boundaries in accordance with new U.S. Census data. There was speculation that lawmakers would draft a new abortion law while in special session, but the issue never came up on either chamber’s floor. 

But the issue is almost certain to arise when legislators reconvene for their regular session in January, depending on the Supreme Court’s rulings on abortion bans in both Mississippi and Texas.

A court ruling is expected soon on Texas’ abortion law, which bans the procedure after roughly six weeks, a law that has been in effect since Sept. 1. The law bans abortion once cardiac activity is detected in the fetus, and makes no exceptions for rape or incest. 

Opponents of Georgia’s abortion law are fearful of a Texas-style law in Georgia, if the Supreme Court rules the law is constitutional.

“Texas is showing us what a world without Roe v. Wade looks like — one where wealthier people can travel to get reproductive care while poorer people are stripped of their rights,” said Georgia Rep. Kim Schofield, D-Atlanta. “We can’t let that happen.” 

“What happens in Texas won’t stay in Texas,” said state Rep. Beth Moore, D-Peachtree Corners. “Not every pregnancy is an immaculate conception or a Hollywood-produced drama. There is a limit to what government can impose, and the Republican Party wants to replace God with government.”

While the Georgia and Texas laws are alike in banning abortions once cardiac activity is detected, Texas is different in that leaves enforcement of the law to private citizens through civil lawsuits instead of criminal prosecution.

Miller has told Capitol Beat “everything is on the table” regarding the abortion issue in Georgia. 

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Federal court issues stay on Georgia’s abortion law

ATLANTA – The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has issued a stay on an appeal of Georgia’s controversial abortion law, pending the outcome of an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court abortion case. 

The court made the announcement on SisterSong v Kemp Monday night.  

The Supreme Court case in question is Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which has the potential to challenge Roe v. Wade. The case involves a Mississippi abortion law and will be heard by the Supreme Court on Dec. 1.

Last Friday, the appellate court heard arguments appealing Georgia’s law, known as the Living Infants Fairness Equality Act, which seeks to prevent abortions after a fetal heartbeat has been detected, typically six weeks into pregnancy, except in special situations. 

During the arguments, the justices seemed inclined to stay the appeal until the Supreme Court decides on the Mississippi case. 

Lawyers on both sides of the case had no objections to the court’s inclinations to stay the case. 

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation. 

Appeals court may wait on Supreme Court abortion ruling before deciding Georgia’s case

ATLANTA – The U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments Friday on Georgia’s controversial abortion law, and justices said they were inclined to wait on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on a Mississippi abortion law before issuing a ruling. 

“That would be the prudent way to proceed,” said Justice William Pryor during the hearing, which was livestreamed on the court’s website. Attorneys on both sides of the case – Jeffrey Harris for the state of Georgia and Gov. Brian Kemp, and Elizabeth Watson, representing SisterSong – said they had no issue with the court delaying a decision. 

Georgia’s abortion law – known as the Living Infants Fairness Equality Act – seeks to prevent abortions after a fetal heartbeat has been detected, typically six weeks into pregnancy, except in special situations.

>> Georgia lawmakers sign amicus brief ahead of U.S. Supreme Court abortion hearing

Lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights led the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia in December 2019 to rule the law unconstitutional. The legislation, which the General Assembly passed earlier that year, had been scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

>> State Democrats fear Texas-style abortion bill in Georgia

If the 11th Circuit agrees with the district judge on SisterSong v. Kemp, Georgia could then appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which may then look at the law’s constitutionality and reexamine the precedent of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion on demand.

>> Everything on the table, top Georgia senator says on abortion

The Mississippi case coming before the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 1 is Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which has the potential to challenge Roe v. Wade. The case has drawn more than 1,000 friend-of-the-court briefs so far from groups on both sides of the issue. 

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Georgia lawmakers sign amicus brief ahead of U.S. Supreme Court abortion hearing

ATLANTA – Abortion-rights advocates in the General Assembly have opened up a new front.

Fifty-eight Georgia lawmakers signed onto a “friend of the court” – or amicus – brief filed on Monday in a case before the U.S. Supreme Court involving an abortion law in Mississippi. That was the most signatories from one state among the nearly 900 lawmakers who signed the brief.

The case, scheduled to be heard by the high court on Dec. 1, bans abortions after 15 weeks in Mississippi, nine weeks fewer than the 24-week precedent established by the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

The amicus brief was organized by the State Innovation Exchange’s Reproductive Freedom Leadership Council, which describes itself as a “network of state legislators working to advance reproductive health, rights and justice.” 

>> State Democrats fear Texas-style abortion bill in Georgia

The brief argues the Supreme Court’s failure to uphold the rule of law and precedent would result in disastrous consequences for women seeking abortions, as well as for their families.  

“State legislators are the first line of defense against policies that deliberately roll back progress on abortion rights and reproductive health across the country, and the overwhelming majority of the public agrees we must protect Roe v. Wade,” said the organization’s Jennifer Driver. “With this amicus brief, nearly 900 legislators are sending the Supreme Court a clear message: We cannot go back. You must uphold 50 years of legal abortion in all 50 states.”  

>> Friday’s 11th Circuit hearing has pro-, anti-abortion groups’ full attention

The amicus brief in the Mississippi case comes on the heels of passage of a stricter abortion law in Texas that bans the procedure after fetal cardiac activity is detected, typically about six weeks.

“Texas is showing us what a world without Roe v. Wade looks like — one where wealthier people can travel to get reproductive care while poorer people are stripped of their rights,” said Georgia Rep. Kim Schofield, D-Atlanta. “We can’t let that happen.” 

Last week, Georgia Democrats specifically expressed their concern that a Texas-style abortion bill could soon be introduced in the Peach State.

On Friday, the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals is set for a hearing on Georgia’s abortion law, which has been tied up in court since it was passed by the Republican-led General Assembly two years ago.

>> Everything on the table, top Georgia senator says on abortion

Georgia’s abortion bill – House Bill 481 – known as the Living Infants Fairness Equality Act – also seeks to prevent abortions after a fetal heartbeat has been detected, except in special situations. A U.S. District Court judge ruled it unconstitutional last year following lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.

Friday’s 11th Circuit hearing has pro-, anti-abortion groups’ full attention

ATLANTA – As the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals prepares to hear the latest challenge to Georgia’s controversial abortion law, groups on both sides of the issue have their own hopes, expectations and aspirations before Friday’s hearing.”

A Georgia judge struck down Republicans’ HB 481 last year because the court saw it for what it was — an unconstitutional infringement on the right to choose — and we hope the 11th Circuit Court agrees,” said Rebecca Galanti, spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Georgia. “Democrats will continue to fight at every turn to safeguard reproductive freedom and stop Republicans’ dangerous anti-choice agenda in Georgia.”

One of the men who helped draft the law – state Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller, R-Gainesville – takes the other side.

“I’ve never subscribed to the idea that it’s unconstitutional to save human lives,” said Miller, who is running for lieutenant governor in 2022. “With today’s technology, it’s no longer possible to deny the clear humanity of unborn children, even at early stages of pregnancy. Upholding Georgia’s law would send a clear message that we as a society will protect our most vulnerable and defenseless.”

>> Everything on the table, top Georgia senator says on abortion

Georgia’s abortion bill – HB 481, known as the Living Infants Fairness Equality Act – seeks to prevent abortions after a fetal heartbeat has been detected, typically six weeks, except in special situations. Lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights eventually led the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia to rule the law unconstitutional.

“Whether you look at things like the unborn child tax credit and child support for expectant mothers in the Heartbeat Bill, or at other laws like the Rape Survivor Custody Act and this year’s [temporary protection order that extends to pregnant women,] it is clear that Georgia has consistently treated preborn children as persons, as defined in the 14th Amendment,” said Joshua Edmonds, Georgia Life Alliance executive director. “We expect there will be a great deal of conversation about why the portion of the law prohibiting abortion on babies with beating hearts should be treated any differently.”

Last week, Georgia Democrats specifically expressed their concern that a Texas-style abortion bill could soon be introduced in the state.

>> State Democrats fear Texas-style abortion bill in Georgia

“What happens in Texas won’t stay in Texas,” said state Rep. Beth Moore, D-Peachtree Corners. “Not every pregnancy is an immaculate conception or a Hollywood-produced drama. There is a limit to what government can impose, and the Republican Party wants to replace God with government.”

Like the Georgia bill, the Texas law prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity, usually around six weeks. The Texas law leaves enforcement to private citizens through civil lawsuits instead of criminal prosecutors.

Last week, Miller told Capitol Beat “everything is on the table” regarding the abortion issue in Georgia. “My goal is to protect life, and we’re waiting to see what the courts say,” Miller said.

If the 11th Circuit agrees with the district judge, Georgia could then appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which may then look at the law’s constitutionality and reexamine the precedent of Roe v. Wade.

“Georgia’s HB481 law is blatantly unconstitutional; that’s why it was blocked by the courts last year and why we expect it to stay that way following Friday’s hearing,” said Lauren Frazier, Planned Parenthood Southeast spokesperson. “When the data shows that nearly 80% of people in this country support access to safe, legal abortion, it’s clear that these sorts of attacks are purely political and completely against the will of the people. Planned Parenthood Southeast and our partners are prepared to fight any attempts to deny Georgians their right to make their own health care decisions.”

Gov. Brian Kemp also is expected to call a special legislative session, likely in November, to redraw the state’s congressional and legislative districts under newly released U.S. Census figures.

“It has been suggested that while we’re in session, we could consider other measures, such as a Texas-modeled abortion law,” Moore said.

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, said special legislative sessions are called for a specific purpose – such as redistricting – but a two-thirds majority vote of the General Assembly could expand its originally called purpose.

This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.