September 22, 2023

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The Georgia Supreme Court on Nov. 23 reinstated the state’s ban on abortions after six weeks into a pregnancy. The move temporarily ends access to later abortions ruled by a state judge a week ago.

In a single-page ruling (pdf) issued Wednesday, the court overturned a lower court’s recent decision to block the Georgia law. The Supreme Court’s order giving a stay in the case means the law is reinstated while the court considers an appeal on the merits from Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, a Republican.

“The state of Georgia’s emergency petition […] seeking a stay of the order of the superior court of Fulton county in the above-styled action is hereby granted,” the order said. “To the extent the state also seeks an ‘administrative stay,’ that motion is dismissed as moot.”

The court didn’t address the reason for granting the state’s request.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney declared on Nov. 15 the state’s ban on abortions was unlawful at the time it was enacted—when the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision was still in place and concluded abortion was protected under the Constitution.

The Georgia House Bill 481, known as the LIFE Act, was signed into law by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in 2019, and had been blocked for three years until the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe and a similar ruling this June, allowing states to decide on abortion by themselves.

The state’s ban prohibits most abortions once a “detectable human heartbeat” is present.

Cardiac activity can be detected by ultrasound in cells within an embryo that will eventually become the heart around six weeks into a pregnancy. That means most abortions in Georgia are effectively banned at a point before many people know they are pregnant.

McBurney ordered authorities last week to stop enforcing the statewide measure. In his ruling, the judge said the timing made the law immediately invalid, and to enact the law, the state legislature would have to pass it again.

By Rita Li

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