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Court allows Georgia’s ‘heartbeat’ abortion law to go into effect post-Roe

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A Georgia law banning most abortions was to take effect Wednesday after an appeals court overturned a lower court’s pause on the state’s 2019 “heartbeat” measure, a development set in motion by an unusual judicial order allowing the law to be enacted immediately.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit on Wednesday said the Supreme Court’s recent Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling “makes clear no right to abortion exists under the Constitution, so Georgia may prohibit them.” The three-judge panel ruled in favor of the state legislature, which in 2019 banned termination of pregnancies after a fetal heartbeat is detected, or as early as about six weeks into a pregnancy — sometimes before a woman knows she is pregnant.

The court ruled that the law could take effect immediately, and on Wednesday afternoon, Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr (R) said it would do so.

In 2020, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia paused the abortion law, saying it violated constitutional abortion protections established by the Supreme Court’s 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade ruling. Last month, the Supreme Court struck down that nearly 50-year precedent, opening the door for about half of states to ban or tightly restrict abortion.

Stacey Abrams, a Democrat running for governor, said July 20 that she was “enraged” by the law that bans abortion after detecting a fetal heartbeat. (Video: The Washington Post)

Abortion is now banned in these states. See where laws have changed.

Stacey Abrams, a Democrat running for governor, said at a news conference Wednesday that she was “enraged” by the abortion law that has made it “dangerous to become pregnant.” If elected, Abrams said, she would work to overturn it.

“The only solution is to repeal this law,” she said.

Gov. Brian Kemp (R), in a video alongside his wife, said that he was “overjoyed” with the ruling and that the state has expanded resources for pregnant people.

“Today’s decision by the 11th Circuit affirms our promise to protect life at all stages,” Kemp said.

First lady Marty Kemp said the state was bolstering pregnancy and parental resources.

Alice Wang, staff attorney for the Center for Reproductive Rights, told The Washington Post that although Georgia has made efforts to assist pregnant people, there are many other policies that the state could enact and programs it could fund to decrease its high maternal and infant mortality rates, especially for racial and ethnic minorities.

HBCU students are being disproportionately affected by Roe’s reversal

“It’s crucial for people to decide for themselves if and when and how to have children,” she said.

Feminist Women’s Health Center, an abortion provider that was among those suing to stop the law, called the ruling “cruel.”

“We are calling and disappointing many, many patients with already scheduled appointments, many of whom are Black people and other people of color, some who are traveling from other banned states, who will no longer be able to be seen here because of this cruel decision,” the group said in a statement signed by its executive director, Kwajelyn J. Jackson.

“Even though we ultimately knew that this decision was coming, we had no reason to expect such a disregard for standard rules of order in this case,” Jackson said. “We expected that the mandate would be issued to take effect in 28 days, as is the ordinary course, to allow us to adapt our protocols to work in compliance with the newly implemented law.”

Normally, the ruling wouldn’t take effect for weeks, the Associated Press reported, but the court issued a second order Wednesday allowing the law to take effect immediately.

Antiabortion groups praised the decision.

Martha Zoller, executive director for Georgia Life Alliance, the largest antiabortion group in the state, told The Post that her organization expected the 2019 bill to be upheld after the Supreme Court’s ruling on Dobbs came down last month.

She characterized Wednesday’s ruling as a “mic drop” moment.

“Wednesday’s decision is a strong example of how elected leaders listen to their constituents who have been on the pro-life side of abortion and make laws that they want to see passed,” Zoller said.

State Rep. Betsy Holland (D) urged Georgians to vote out Republicans who supported the 2019 abortion law.

“Women have lost reproductive freedom in GA,” she tweeted.

The Georgia law allows exceptions for rape and incest if a police report is filed.

The legislation narrowly made it through the Georgia House, receiving 92 votes, one more than it needed to pass. Seventy-eight representatives, including some Republican lawmakers, opposed the measure.

The state Senate passed the bill on a party-line vote.

Emily Wax-Thibodeaux and Reis Thebault contributed to this report.

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