Georgia is appealing a federal judge’s ruling that permanently blocked the restrictive abortion measure lawmakers passed last year.
U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ruled last month that the law cannot take effect because it violates the U.S. Constitution. Lawyers for the state on Tuesday appealed that ruling to the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
The law sought to ban abortions once a “detectable human heartbeat” is present, with some limited exceptions. Cardiac activity can be detected by ultrasound as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women realize they are expecting, according to a legal challenge.
Jones was ruling on a lawsuit filed by attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of Georgia abortion providers and an advocacy group.
“The district court blocked Georgia’s abortion ban, because it violates over 50 years of Supreme Court precedent and fails to trust women to make their own personal decisions,” ACLU of Georgia legal director Sean Young said in an emailed statement Tuesday. “This case has always been about one thing: letting her decide. Abortion care remains legal throughout the State of Georgia.”
The law defines a “detectable human heartbeat” as “embryonic or fetal cardiac activity or the steady and repetitive rhythmic contraction of the heart within the gestational sac.” Referring to a document from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the lawsuit says “cells that eventually form the basis for development of the heart later in pregnancy” produce “cardiac activity” that can be detected by ultrasound as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
The law makes exceptions in the case of rape and incest, as long as the woman files a police report first. It also allows for abortions after cardiac activity is detected when the life of the woman is at risk or when a fetus is determined not to be viable because of a serious medical condition.
“The Court rejects the State defendants’ argument that the statutory purpose solely concerns ‘promoting fetal well-being,’” Jones wrote.
Instead, he wrote, the law’s specific references to Roe v. Wade — the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide — and “established abortion related precedents” supports the argument that the purpose of the law “was to ban or de facto ban abortion.”
Jones refused to leave any parts of the law in effect, including a provision that would have granted personhood to a fetus, giving it the same legal rights as people have after they are born. For example, a mother could have claimed a fetus as a dependent to reduce taxes.
Tuesday’s appeal was not unexpected. Republican Gov. Brian Kemp vowed to appeal right after Jones struck down the law.
Women in Georgia can currently seek an abortion during the first 20 weeks of a pregnancy.
Georgia’s so-called heartbeat law is one of a wave of laws passed recently by Republican-controlled legislatures in an attack on the Roe v. Wade ruling.