Georgia abortion law takes effect immediately | Federal court lifts injunction

11th circuit court of appeals released its long-awaited ruling on the state’s controversial ‘heartbeat’ bill
Published: Jul. 20, 2022 at 2:01 PM EDT|Updated: Jul. 22, 2022 at 9:12 AM EDT
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ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) - The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals on Wednesday lifted the injunction on Georgia’s controversial abortion bill, which bans the procedure after fetal cardiac activity is detected, usually at around six weeks of pregnancy.

The court’s decision comes after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Mississippi’s abortion law that bans the procedure after 15 weeks. That decision, announced June 24, essentially overturns Roe v. Wade, the court’s landmark 1973 ruling which ruled a pregnant woman has the right to choose to an abortion without excessive government restriction.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said the law will take effect immediately.

“It is the constitutional duty of the Georgia Attorney General to defend the laws of our state,” Carr said late Wednesday. “Today, our arguments have prevailed, meaning the 11th circuit has allowed Georgia’s LIFE Act to take effect immediately.”

“We vacate the injunction, reverse the judgment in favor of the abortionists, and remand with instructions to enter judgment in favor of the state officials,” the court announced on Wednesday.

In the ruling, the 11th circuit cited the Supreme Court’s decision and its ruling that “the Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision.”

“Georgia’s prohibition on abortions after detectable human heartbeat is rational,” the ruling continued. “Respect for and preservation of prenatal life at all stages of development” is a legitimate interest.”

“If anyone is providing abortion services now in Georgia they’re probably thinking about shutting it down as soon as possible,” said Alexander Volokh, an associate professor of law at Emory University. “If anyone is planning to get an abortion in Georgia, they should do it now or figure out how to get to Florida.”

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“We are overjoyed the court has paved the way for the implementation of Georgia’s life act,” said Gov. Brian Kemp at the state capitol about an hour after the ruling was issued. “As mothers navigate pregnancy, birth, parenthood or alternative options to parenthood like adoptions, Georgia’s public, private and non-profit sectors stand ready to provide the resources they need to stay safe, healthy and informed.”

Democrat Stacey Abrams, who is challenging Kemp this fall in one of the nation’s most watched gubernatorial elections, said, “doctors and healthcare workers agree that this law will be deadly for women across our state. While the six-week abortion ban has taken over three years to take effect, the impact is clear: women are now second-class citizens in Kemp’s Georgia.

“In a state that is already first in maternal mortality, sixth highest in infant mortality, and one of twelve states that refuses to expand Medicaid and provide health care to low-income communities, this ruling cements the failures of this administration and devastates the realities of women.”

Other pro-choice supporters issued almost immediate condemnations of the court’s ruling.

“Kemp’s dangerous law has severe consequences for women and doctors, who could be thrown in jail for seeking or providing reproductive care,” said state Rep. Nikema Williams (D-Atlanta), who chairs the Democratic Party of Georgia. “We know the governor and Georgia Republicans want to go even further and outlaw abortion with no exceptions for victims of rape or incest.

“With out-of-touch GOP extremists rolling back our rights and women’s lives at stake, it’s crucial that Georgians elect Stacey Abrams and Democrats up and down the ballot who will fight to defend access to abortion, come hell or high water,” Williams said.

“Today’s ruling is yet another consequence of the dangerous decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn ‘Roe v. Wade’ and allow politicians to interfere in these personal medical decisions,” said U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, who is facing a reelection challenge this fall from Republican Herschel Walker. “While we may grieve this ruling, we can’t give into despair. Reproductive health care is health care.”

“Abortion bans hurt Black women, low-income folks, and Queer and trans families the most,” said Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. ”The women and families of Georgia deserve better. We all deserve better. No matter how long it takes, we are here in this battle until everyone has full bodily autonomy.”

Simpson’s organization had filed a request to halt the six-week ban only days after Gov. Brian Kemp signed it into law.

“In just a few weeks, we have already seen large swaths of the south eliminate virtually all access to abortion,” said Alice Wang, staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “If this law takes effect, pregnant people in Georgia will either be forced to travel hundreds of miles to access essential health care if they have the means to do so, or forced to carry their pregnancies to term and give birth against their will. Doctors will be forced to choose between providing time-sensitive, medically necessary care and risking criminal prosecution.”

“We are appalled at the decision of the federal court for allowing women’s rights to be threatened in Georgia,” said Gerald Griggs, president of the Georgia NAACP. “There is no middle ground on the issue of women’s rights. This state has chosen to stand against women, and no one will feel the impact of that burden more than Black women.”

Pro-life groups were equally supportive of Wednesday’s ruling.

“We rejoice that thousands of unborn boys and girls in Georgia, with beating hearts like you and me, will be spared the violence of abortion and have the opportunity to be born,” said Caitlin Connors, southern regional director for Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America. “From detectable heartbeats by six weeks, to unique fingerprints forming at 10 weeks, to feeling pain by 15 weeks, the humanity of unborn children has been made undeniable by advances in science.”

On the day of the Supreme Court’s decision, Carr requested the 11th circuit to lift the injunction that had been filed against the bill, which was passed in 2019 by the Georgia General Assembly. The law, also known as the “heartbeat bill,” had been tied up in courts since Gov. Brian Kemp signed the measure into law.

RELATED: Abortion rights activists hold protests in downtown Atlanta

“I believe in the dignity, value and worth of every human being, both born and unborn,” Carr said in a June 24 statement. “The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs is constitutionally correct and rightfully returns the issue of abortion to the states and to the people – where it belongs. We have just filed a notice in the 11th Circuit requesting it reverse the District Court’s decision and allow Georgia’s Heartbeat Law to take effect.”

The 11th circuit court had been waiting on a final ruling until the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

Abortion in Georgia had been legal up to 20 weeks after conception.

On Friday, Fulton County DA Fani Willis and the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Counsel filed a brief with the 11th circuit, asking the court return the case to lower courts so the beat law could be further discussed “in a post-Dobbs context,” according to the brief.

In the document submitted by Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz, PC, the brief said, “As such, while District Attorney Willis did not assert any affirmative claims in the underlying litigation, District Attorney Willis believes that this case should be returned to the lower court to allow the parties the opportunity to address the merits of the claims in a post-Dobbs context.”

RELATED: Abortion rights activists hold protests in downtown Atlanta

The filing went on to say, “District Attorney Willis does not believe that Dobbs has an impact on those aspects of the Judgment that addressed vagueness in the challenged law.”

“Countless issues where we have no idea how the law would apply to these areas. We don’t even really necessarily know where they would apply and that creates a procedural due process problem,” said Shlomo Pill, an Emory University constitutional law lecturer.

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Atlanta city council members and also the Dekalb County District Attorney have said they do not plan on allocating any resources from the police department or courts in prosecuting abortion cases as a crime.

Carr, a Republican, is facing a challenge from Democrat Jen Jordan in November’s nationally watch Attorney General’s race. Jordan, a state senator from metro Atlanta, is a strong opponent of Georgia’s now-legal abortion law.

“While disappointing, the 11th Circuit’s decision is not unexpected,” Jordan said. “The U.S. Supreme Court said this fight belongs in the states, so we must challenge this law in the state courts, and we must elect state leaders who will protect access to reproductive healthcare.”

At least one group that was actively involved in opposing the bill has no plans at present to challenge the law in court.

“We’re approaching this decision from an organizing standpoint,” said Tangi Bush, legal affairs director for New Georgia Project. “There may be other organizations that are planning to challenge the law, but we plan to use this to help organize and educate voters about the elections this fall in the November midterms.”