Georgia Supreme Court reinstates abortion ban

ATLANTA – The Georgia Supreme Court reinstated Georgia’s law banning most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy Wednesday just over a week after a lower court judge had blocked the law from taking effect. 

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney had ruled last week that the Georgia abortion ban was unconstitutional and blocked state officials from enforcing it.  

The so-called “heartbeat” law, initially passed in 2019, prohibits abortions in Georgia after a fetal heartbeat is detected. It has faced legal challenges since its inception, first in federal courts and now in Georgia state courts. 

After the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in June overturning the 1973 landmark abortion-rights case Roe v. Wade, a federal appeals court allowed the Georgia law to take effect in July. 

Pro-choice groups then took their fight to state court, where McBurney enjoined the law. Soon after, lawyers for the state filed notice of their intent to appeal to the state Supreme Court. They also filed an emergency petition asking the court to reinstitute the abortion law while the case is pending.  

The court agreed to do so Wednesday in a one-page ruling representing a unanimous 7-0 decision. Two justices – Nels S.D. Peterson and Andrew Pinson – did not participate in the case.  

“We are pleased with the court’s action today,” said Kara Richardson, spokesperson for Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr. “However, we are unable to provide further comment due to the pending appeal.”

The plaintiffs in the case – led by reproductive rights group SisterSong — argued that reinstituting the ban while the legal battle continues could harm women.   

They also asked the Supreme Court to provide one day’s advance notice of the re-institution of the law so that providers and patients are not taken by surprise ahead of scheduled procedures. However, the court declined to provide the advance notice.  

“It is cruel that our patients’ ability to access the reproductive health care they need has been taken away yet again,” said Kwajelyn Jackson, executive director of Feminist Women’s Health Center, one of the plaintiffs in the case.

“For the second time this year, we are being forced to turn away those in need of abortion care beyond six weeks of pregnancy. This ban has wreaked havoc on Georgians’ lives, and our patients deserve better. We will keep fighting to protect our patients and their health.” 

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

Fulton County judge blocks Georgia’s abortion ban

ATLANTA – A Fulton County Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that the state cannot enforce a 2019 Georgia law banning most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy.  

Judge Robert McBurney’s ruling found key provisions of the abortion ban were void “ab initio,” or from the start, because they violate the U.S. Constitution – as it stood when the legislature passed and Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed the law in 2019.

“At the time … it was unequivocally unconstitutional for governments – federal, state, or local—to ban abortions before viability,” wrote McBurney.  

McBurney found two key provisions of the Georgia law void: a provision allowing doctors to be charged with a felony for performing an abortion and a requirement that doctors report their rationales for “otherwise illegal” abortions to the state Department of Public Health.  

McBurney’s order prohibits any state or local government official from enforcing the abortion law.  

But it leaves the door open for the General Assembly to reconsider the abortion issue in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision last June to overturn the landmark 1973 abortion-rights decision Roe v. Wade. 

“It may someday become the law of Georgia, but only after our legislature determines in the sharp glare of public attention that will undoubtedly and properly attend such an important and consequential debate,” wrote McBurney.   

Georgia enacted House Bill 481, also known as the “heartbeat law” or the LIFE Act, three years ago. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit  – led by reproductive rights group SisterSong  –  challenged the law in federal court.  

After the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade, a federal appeals court allowed the Georgia law to take effect in July. The pro-choice advocates then took their fight to Fulton County Superior Court, challenging the abortion ban on the ground that it violated both the federal and Georgia constitutions.

“Today’s ruling recognizes that the legislature’s decision to take away abortion access across our state was in clear violation of the law,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, which represented the plaintiffs in the case. “Today is a great day for Georgia women and for all Georgians. Today their right to make decisions for their own bodies, health, and families is vindicated.”  

The state, represented by the office of Republican Attorney General Chris Carr, has already filed an appeal with the Georgia Supreme Court, said spokeswoman Kara Richardson. Carr was re-elected to a second full term as attorney general last week.

“[We] will continue to fulfill our duty to defend the laws of our state in court,” added Richardson.

Abortion will also likely play a key role in the December U.S. Senate runoff between Democratic incumbent Raphael Warnock and Republican Herschel Walker. Warnock is pro-choice, while Walker has supported the Georgia abortion law. Walker has denied allegations that he paid for two ex-girlfriends’ abortions.  

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

Pro-choice advocates argue against abortion law in state court

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney

ATLANTA – Both sides in the legal battle over Georgia’s 2019 law banning most abortions after about six weeks into a pregnancy made their cases during a trial in state court this week.

While the General Assembly enacted the abortion law three years ago, federal court rulings prevented it from taking effect until this summer after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion.

Pro-choice advocates then challenged the law in state court, arguing it is unconstitutional under the Georgia Constitution’s right to privacy.

During the trial in Fulton County Superior Court this week, lawyers for the plaintiffs presented expert witnesses including doctors, a public health expert and an ultrasound technician. The experts argued that the law has detrimental effects on Georgians’ health.

 “Georgia’s ban has disproportionately harmed communities that already face barriers to health care: Black, Indigenous, and people of color; people with low incomes; and those who live in rural communities,” Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said Tuesday after the court hearing concluded. “We have asked the court to end this state-inflicted trauma so that providers in Georgia can care for the patients who need them.” 

Lawyers for the state questioned the methods and conclusions of the plaintiffs’ witnesses and presented their own expert testimony in support of House Bill 481. 

“Human life begins when the sperm fertilizes the egg,  the moment of conception when that new human being becomes a genetically distinct person,” said Dr. Jeffrey Wright, a specialist in maternal-fetal medicine who practices in North Carolina who has served as an expert witness in abortion cases in other states.

Wright said Georgia’s law provides sufficient exceptions to allow physicians to decide to perform abortions if the life of the mother is at risk.

“[Doctors] can still provide that same medical care,” he said.

Fulton Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney said Monday he would not rule on the matter until after Georgia’s Nov. 8 midterm elections, in part due to the extensive evidence presented to him.

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

Attorney general candidates spar over abortion, crime  

ATLANTA — Georgia’s three candidates for the state’s top lawyer job sparred over abortion, guns, crime and even oil pipelines during a Tuesday debate in Atlanta.  

Much of the debate focused on how each would approach the state’s controversial “heartbeat” abortion law, which outlaws most abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy.  

Democratic state Sen. and lawyer Jen Jordan of Atlanta has been a vocal opponent of the law. She has previously indicated she would not enforce it if elected attorney general.  

During Tuesday’s debate, Jordan said she believes the Georgia abortion law violates the state Constitution.

“I think specifically what we have to look to is the right of privacy under Georgia’s state Constitution, which was first identified in 1905,” she said.

 “I have stood up for the women of this state, fighting to protect human trafficking victims, fighting to protect victims of gangs, fighting for those that are being taken advantage of from an elder abuse standpoint ” incumbent Republican Attorney General Chris Carr said in response.  

The Georgia abortion law does not allow a pregnant woman to be prosecuted, Carr said, and Jordan’s claim is a scare tactic.   

“If anyone, it’s the [medical] providers that are provided for in this law,” he said. “It would be up to the district attorneys to make that determination.” 

Jordan hit back, pointing out that the Georgia abortion law specifies that an embryo is a person and this new legal definition could allow prosecution of pregnant women.  

“When we think about the homicide statute, the manslaughter statute … the child abuse statute, all of that would actually apply … to a pregnant woman if she were to harm the embryo,” Jordan said. “It’s ridiculous to say that this law does not let a prosecutor go after a woman because it’s clear that it does.”

The candidates also sparred over crime. Carr pointed to his track record in prosecuting human trafficking and gang crimes. He also said Jordan missed many key votes – including on laws about crime – while she was in the state legislature.

Jordan said crime has increased over 60% in the state and that Carr had done nothing to address the issue.  

She said she is a supporter of the Second Amendment but believes in  gun control measures such as red-flag and safe-storage laws. 

“As the next attorney general, I’m going to work with local police departments and agencies to get illegal guns off the streets and out of violent street gangs,” Jordan vowed.  

Carr also decried the role of federal overreach and touted his support for free enterprise and competition in Georgia.

“Number one, I believe in the power of the free enterprise system,” he said. “I believe in the rule of law.” 

Carr pointed to his decision to join other states in a lawsuit over an executive order issued by President Joe Biden to stop construction on the Keystone Pipeline.  

“I’ve tried to protect lives, livelihoods and liberty over the past six years,” Carr said. “In fighting for the Constitution, I’m fighting for American jobs, lower gas prices, and less reliance on evil regimes that hate us.”

In response, Jordan accused Carr of focusing more on filing lawsuits against the federal government than prosecuting crime.  

“People in this state do not feel safe,” she said. “He’s actually sued the Biden administration more than he’s gone after gangs or sex traffickers.”

Libertarian Martin Cowen also weighed in, taking Carr’s position against federal overreach but agreeing with Jordan’s stance on protecting abortion rights.  

Cowen, like Jordan and Carr, graduated from the University of Georgia School of Law.

“The next attorney general for the state of Georgia shall be a graduate of the University of Georgia law school,” Cowen said. “Go Dawgs!”

Early voting in Georgia continues through Nov. 4, the last Friday before Election Day Nov. 8. 

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

Walker denies paying for 2009 abortion, vows to sue over story

ATLANTA – Republican U.S. Senate nominee Herschel Walker, a staunch opponent of abortion, is denying a media report that he paid for an abortion for a girlfriend in 2009.

But his son reacted to Walker’s response to the story The Daily Beast posted on its website Monday by calling his father on Twitter a liar and hypocrite.

The elder Walker told FOX News host Sean Hannity Monday night the story is “a flat-out lie” concocted by supporters of incumbent Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga.

“They’ll do anything to win this seat,” Walker said. “They want to make it about everything else except the true problems we have in this country: inflation, the border wide open, crime. They don’t want to talk about that, so they’re making up lies.”

Walker is vowing to sue The Daily Beast for defamation.

Meanwhile, his 24-year-old son, Christian Walker, criticized his father on Twitter after The Daily Beast posted the abortion story. The younger Walker said he has been mostly absent from the campaign trail because his father has not owned up to his past.

“I did one event last year when we were told he was going to get ahead of his past and hold himself accountable,” Christian Walker said. “That never happened.”

Warnock’s campaign has been running ads featuring Herschel Walker’s ex-wife, Cindy Grossman, describing how he held a gun to her head.

Walker has said he is accountable for his past violent behavior but that he was struggling with dissociative identity disorder at the time, a mental illness about which he later wrote a book.

The younger Walker, who has gained a reputation as a conservative influencer, said the family tried to talk Herschel Walker out of running for the Senate because of his violent past.

Christian Walker took his father to task for posing in campaign ads as a “family man.”

“You don’t get to pretend you’re some moral family guy,” the younger Walker said. “Talk policy. Do not lie.”

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