Abortion law blocked by federal judge
Carol Ozemhoya | OW Contributor | 10/3/2019, 3:35 p.m.
For months, there have been rumors that Hollywood heavyweights were set to take a bite out of Georgia’s growing film and TV industry over the state’s passing of a controversial abortion law. But this week, a federal judge shot down the law, scheduled to take affect Jan. 1, 2020. The federal judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked Georgia’s restrictive new abortion law from taking effect, following the lead of other judges who have blocked similar measures in other states, reports ABC News. The law signed in May by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp bans abortions once a “detectable human heartbeat” is present, with some limited exceptions. Cardiac activity can be detected by ultrasound as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women realize they’re expecting, according to a legal challenge. Lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights in June filed a constitutional challenge to the law on behalf of Georgia abortion providers and an advocacy group. U.S. District Judge Steve Jones wrote in an order Tuesday that the current laws governing abortion in the state shall remain in effect for the time being. Based on current U.S. Supreme Court precedent, he wrote, the challenge to the new law is likely to succeed. Kemp spokeswoman Candice Broce said in an email that the governor's office is reviewing the decision. “Despite today’s outcome, we remain confident in our position,” she wrote. “We will continue to fight for the unborn and work to ensure that all Georgians have the opportunity to live, grow and prosper.” Said ACLU of Georgia legal director, Sean Young, “Today is a tremendous victory for the women of Georgia and for the Constitution. Politicians have no business telling women or couples when to start or expand a family. This case has always been about one thing: Letting her decide.” The law defines a “detectable human heartbeat” as “embryonic or fetal cardiac activity or the steady and repetitive rhythmic contraction of the heart within the gestational sac.” Referring to a document from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the legal challenge says that “cells that eventually form the basis for development of the heart later in pregnancy” produce “cardiac activity” that can be detected by ultrasound as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The law makes exceptions in the case of rape and incest, as long as the woman files a police report first. It also allows for abortions after cardiac activity is detected when the life of the woman is at risk or when a fetus is determined not to be viable because of a serious medical condition.
The Supreme Court has “repeatedly and unequivocally” held that a state cannot ban abortion prior to viability, and Georgia’s law does precisely that because fetal cardiac activity can be detected months before the point of viability, Jones wrote. He noted that other courts have “uniformly and repeatedly” struck down other attempts to ban abortions prior to viability. The judge also was concerned by the part of the law that redefines “natural person” to include “any human being including an unborn child,” which is defined as an embryo or fetus “at any stage of development who is carried in the womb.” In its landmark Roe v. Wade ruling in 1973, which legalized abortion nationwide, the Supreme Court considered and rejected that precise definition, Jones wrote. The so-called heartbeat law is one of a wave of laws passed recently by Republican-controlled legislatures in an attack on the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide. None of the bans has taken effect. Some have already been blocked, and elsewhere courts are considering requests to put them on hold while legal challenges play out.