A Georgia Superior Court judge has overturned the state’s law banning abortions as early as six weeks of pregnancy, ruling it unconstitutional and saying it cannot be enforced.
The decision from Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney makes the procedure legal in the state again until at least 20 weeks of pregnancy, effective immediately. The judge’s order comes in response to a lawsuit that sought to strike down the ban on multiple grounds and will apply statewide.
HB481, dubbed Georgia’s LIFE Act, bans, with some exceptions, abortion when early cardiac activity is detected – as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, when many women don’t yet know they are pregnant.
The lawsuit was filed by SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, a group that seeks to “strengthen and amplify the collective voices of indigenous women and women of color to achieve reproductive justice,” according to the group’s website.
“After a long road, we are finally able to celebrate the end of an extreme abortion ban in our state,” Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong, said in a statement, adding: “While we applaud the end of a ban steeped in white supremacy, it should not have existed in the first place. Now, it’s time to move forward with a vision for Georgia that establishes full bodily autonomy and liberation for our communities. “
In his opinion, McBurney wrote that when Georgia lawmakers passed the bill and Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed it in 2019, “the supreme law of this land unequivocally was – and had been for nearly half a century – that laws unduly restricting abortion before viability were unconstitutional.”
Because the right to pre-viability abortion existed nationwide when the law was enacted, Georgia could not legally restrict it at that time, he wrote.
The state has filed a notice of appeal, according to a Kemp spokesperson.
“Today’s ruling places the personal beliefs of a judge over the will of the legislature and people of Georgia,” the spokesperson said.
When approving the measure in 2019, Kemp had said: “I realize that some may challenge it in a court of law. But our job is to do what is right, not what is easy. We are called to be strong and courageous, and we will not back down. We will always continue to fight for life.”
State Attorney General Chris Carr, a Republican, “will continue to fulfill our duty to defend the laws of our state in court,” his spokesman, Kara Richardson, said in an email.
McBurney wrote in his opinion that sections of the legislation “were plainly unconstitutional when drafted, voted upon, and enacted.”
“…[E]verywhere in America, including Georgia, it was unequivocally unconstitutional for governments — federal, state, or local — to ban abortions before viability,” he wrote, adding that “if the courts have spoken, clearly and directly, as to what the law is, as to what is and is not constitutional, legislatures and legislators are not at liberty to pass laws contrary to such pronouncements.”
While signed into law in 2019, the legislation had been blocked from taking effect until this summer. After the Supreme Court ruled on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization – which overturned Roe v. Wade, holding that there is no longer a federal constitutional right to an abortion – the Georgia ban remained on hold for several weeks until a federal appellate court allowed the law to be immediately enforced.
McBurney wrote that lawmakers might pass similar legislation in light of the Dobbs ruling, but they would first have to face the “sharp glare of public attention that will undoubtedly and properly attend such an important and consequential debate whether the rights of unborn children justify such a restriction on women’s right to bodily autonomy and privacy.”
This story has been updated with additional details.