A six-week abortion ban can take effect in Georgia later this summer after a federal appeals court ruled that the previously blocked law is allowed to stand.
The decision will allow the state to ban all abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected by an ultrasound. It also redefines “person” throughout Georgia law to include an embryo or fetus at any stage of development.
Proponents of the law claim that a heartbeat can be detected within six weeks of gestation, which before many people know they’re pregnant. But medical experts say the term heartbeat is misleading since an embryo does not have a developed heart. Instead, ultrasounds detect faint electrical activity in embryonic cells.
The decision from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals was expected in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade and finding there is no constitutional right to an abortion.
The appeals court also rejected arguments that the “personhood” provision in the law was unconstitutionally vague.
The six-week abortion ban, passed in 2019, was previously blocked by a district court judge before it could take effect. The law was ruled unconstitutional because it violated the precedent in Roe v. Wade.
The state appealed, and the appeals court said it would wait until after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson before taking action.
“Georgia’s prohibition on abortions after detectable human heartbeat is rational,” the court ruled.
Georgia’s law provides exceptions for rape and incest, provided a police report is filed and for fetueses younger than 20 weeks. It also will allow for later abortions in cases of a medical emergency, and if a doctor determined pregnancy to be “medically futile.”
The law doesn’t criminalize miscarriages or stillbirth, and specifically says removing an ectopic pregnancy is not an abortion.
The 11th Circuit’s decision does not take effect until the court’s official mandate is issued, which won’t be for several weeks. Until then, the current 20-week abortion law remains in effect.
“Today’s ruling is yet another consequence of the dangerous decision by the United States Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and allow politicians to interfere in these personal medical decisions,” said Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.). “While we may grieve this ruling, we can’t give into despair.”
Reproductive rights advocates slammed the ruling, though the plaintiffs filed a supplemental brief conceding that the Supreme Court’s ruling doomed their challenge. However, they argued that the injunction should become permanent based on vague language about personhood.
“Abortion bans hurt Black Women, low-income folks, and Queer and trans families the most,” said Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, which was the lead plaintiff on the case. “The women and families of Georgia deserve better. We all deserve better. No matter how long it takes, we are here in this battle until everyone has full bodily autonomy.”