The latest on the status of Georgia’s ‘heartbeat’ abortion law

The latest on the status of Georgia's 'heartbeat' abortion law
Bob Korn /

Georgia’s “heartbeat law” banning abortions after the first six weeks won’t take effect until at least mid-July despite last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized the procedure. 

The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals is asking both sides in a lawsuit over Georgia’s law to file legal briefs within the next three weeks.   

The heartbeat law prohibits most abortions in Georgia after the detection of a fetal heartbeat.  Passed in 2019, the law never took effect due to a lawsuit filed by reproductive rights organizations.  

Most recently, the appellate court put a decision on the Georgia law on hold until the Supreme Court ruled on abortion – as it did on Friday.   

Hours after the court announced its decision, Georgia attorney general Chris Carr filed a notice asking the appellate court to rule on Georgia’s law.   

State Sen. Jen Jordan Monday signaled what could be Georgia Democrats’ legal strategy in the case. Jordan, D-Atlanta, who is challenging Republican Carr’s reelection bid, told reporters at a news conference the heartbeat law is unconstitutional both under Georgia and federal law. 

Jordan said Georgia’s constitution provides a very strong right to privacy, which the heartbeat law violates. 

“A right of privacy has been recognized in Georgia since approximately 1903,” she said.   

“Georgia’s [right] has been reaffirmed over and over and over, and it is considered to be one of the strongest in the nation in terms of the case law interpreting it. There is absolutely a viable path in terms of challenging the law under the Georgia constitution.” 

Designating a fertilized egg a legal person, as the law does, would open a “Pandora’s box” of litigation, Jordan said.    

Women who miscarry a pregnancy could face investigation or prosecution under the heartbeat law, Jordan said.   

“We are facing basically a situation where women are going to be asked incredibly private questions about their lives,” she said. 

Jordan said that if elected attorney general, she would not enforce the law. 

“I would not defend it because I don’t believe it is lawful,” she said.   

At least eight Georgia district attorneys (DAs) have said they will not prosecute people seeking or providing abortion in their jurisdictions.  

“We stand together in our firm belief that prosecutors have a responsibility to refrain from using limited criminal legal system resources to criminalize personal medical decisions,” said a letter sponsored by Fair and Just Prosecutors, a national network of elected prosecutors working for criminal justice reforms.

That letter was signed by the DAs for Gwinnett, DeKalb, Douglas, Chatham, Athens, Macon and Augusta as well as DAs in other states.    

Fulton County DA Fani Willis also said on Friday that she would not prosecute abortion seekers or providers.

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

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