Georgia supreme court reinstates abortion ban after 6 weeks

ATLANTA — The Georgia Supreme Court on Wednesday reinstated the state’s ban on abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, abruptly ending access to subsequent abortions that had resumed days earlier.

In a one-page order, the judges stayed a lower court ruling overturning the ban while they consider an appeal. Abortion providers who had resumed performing the procedure after six weeks had to stop again.

Lawyers and advocates who pushed to overturn the ban said the abrupt termination will traumatize women who must now arrange trips to other states to abort or maintain their pregnancies.

“It is outrageous that this extreme law is back in effect, just days after it was legitimately blocked,” said Alice Wang, an attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights who represented abortion providers who challenged Georgia’s ban. “This legal ping pong is causing chaos for medical providers trying to do their jobs and for patients now frantically seeking the abortion services they need.”

The state attorney general’s office in a court filing said that “untold numbers of unborn children” would “suffer permanent consequences” if the state Supreme Court did not issue a stay and stop the judge’s November 15 decision. Fulton County Superior Court, Robert McBurney.

McBurney ruled that the state’s abortion ban was invalid because when it became law in 2019, the US Supreme Court precedent established by Roe v. Wade and another ruling allowed abortion well past six weeks.

The decision immediately prohibited the enforcement of the statewide abortion ban. The state appealed, asking the Georgia Supreme Court to stay the decision while the appeal progressed.

Although abortions had resumed in the past six weeks, some abortion providers said they were proceeding cautiously for fear the ban would be reinstated quickly.

Georgia’s ban went into effect in July, after the US Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade. It prohibited most abortions once a “detectable human heartbeat” was present.

Heart activity can be detected using ultrasound in cells within an embryo that will eventually develop into the heart at around six weeks of pregnancy. That means most abortions in Georgia were effectively banned before many people even knew they were pregnant.

The measure was approved by the state Legislature and signed into law by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in 2019. In his ruling, McBurney said the timing, before the US Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade, invalidated the law immediately.

Legislatures exceed their powers when they pass laws that violate a constitutional right declared by the judiciary, he wrote.

To enact the law, the state Legislature would have to pass it again, he wrote.

The state attorney general’s office in a filing with the Georgia Supreme Court criticized McBurney’s reasoning as having “no legal basis, precedent or common sense.”

Lawyers for the plaintiffs defended it in a response, warning of “irreparable harm” to the women if it was suspended. They also asked the high court for a 24-hour notice before issuing any stays to “avoid the potential chaos” of resuming the ban while women were awaiting or in the midst of having an abortion.

The state Supreme Court did not hold a hearing before issuing its order, and lawyers for the plaintiffs said it denied their request for 24-hour notice.

The high court order said seven of the nine judges agreed with the decision. He said that one was disqualified and another did not participate.

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