The Georgia Supreme Court on November 23 reinstated the state’s ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. The move temporarily ends access to later abortions, which were ordered by a state judge a week ago.
In a one-page judgment (pdf) Wednesday, the court overturned a lower court’s recent decision to block Georgia’s law. The Supreme Court’s order staying the case means the law will be reinstated while the court considers an appeal in the case of Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, a Republican.
“The State of Georgia’s Emergency Response […] The motion to stay the order of the Fulton County Superior Court in the aforementioned lawsuit is hereby granted,” the order reads. “Insofar as the state also applies for a ‘suspension of administration’, this application will be rejected as controversial.”
The court did not address the reason for granting the state’s request.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney said Nov. 15 that the state ban on abortion was unlawful at the time it went into effect — when the Roe v. Wade of 1973 was still in effect, concluding that abortion was protected by the Constitution.
The Georgia House Bill 481, known as the LIFE Act, was signed into law by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in 2019 and was deadlocked for three years until the US Supreme Court struck down Roe and a similar ruling in June of this year, allowing states themselves over abortion decide.
The state ban prohibits most abortions once a “detectable human heartbeat” is present.
Heart activity can be detected by ultrasound in cells within an embryo, which eventually become the heart about six weeks into pregnancy. This means that most abortions in Georgia are effectively banned before many people know they are pregnant.
McBurney last week ordered authorities to halt enforcement of the statewide measure. In his ruling, the judge said the timing rendered the law immediately invalid, and in order for the law to pass, the state legislature would have to re-enact it.
The Georgia Attorney General’s office has branded McBurney’s argument in a state Supreme Court filing as “without legal basis, precedent, or common sense” and has appealed, asking the Georgia Supreme Court to stay the decision while the appeal proceeds.
The plaintiffs’ lawyers defended it in a response, warning of “irreparable harm” to women if it were suspended. They also asked the Supreme Court to give 24-hour notice before issuing a stay to avoid “the potential chaos” of resuming the ban while women were awaiting or in the process of having an abortion.
The state Supreme Court did not hold a hearing before issuing its order, and plaintiffs’ attorneys said they denied their motion with 24 hours’ notice.
According to the High Court’s order, seven of the nine judges agreed with the decision. It said one had been disqualified and another had not participated.
Alice Wang, an attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is also representing the plaintiffs in the case, said the latest court order was “outrageous,” adding, “This legal ping-pong is causing havoc for medical providers trying to get their jobs done Patients who are now desperate for the abortion services they need.”
Some abortion providers had said that although abortions once resumed after six weeks, they were proceeding cautiously, fearing the ban could be quickly reinstated.
Georgia is currently heading towards a December 6 Senate runoff between incumbent pro-abortion Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) and his pro-life GOP challenger Herschel Walker. Many saw abortion rights as a boost that helped Democrats perform better than expected in November’s midterm elections.
Official data cited by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows that 34,988 abortions were performed on Georgia residents in 2021, meaning that on average, one in 100 women between the ages of 10 and 55 had an abortion.
Currently, a dozen states, including Georgia, have banned all or part of abortion as part of the Roe abolition, but half of the states temporarily halted the bans in later court rulings.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.