ACLU of Georgia

New ‘heartbeat bill’ appeal challenges personhood provision

Doug Richards | 11Alive | July 15, 2022

 Opponents of the heartbeat bill think they’ve found a provision in state law that they can successfully fight – despite the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade.

ATLANTA — Another challenge to Georgia’s heartbeat bill is due by Friday night; the deadline was given by a federal appeals court ruling on the legality of the heartbeat bill. 

Opponents of the heartbeat bill think they’ve found a provision in the state law that they can successfully fight – despite the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning a woman’s right to an abortion.

When Georgia lawmakers passed the “heartbeat” bill in 2019 — they aimed to outlaw nearly all abortions after about six weeks of gestation.

 That provision was boosted in June when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling giving women abortion rights.  

But Georgia’s heartbeat bill also includes “personhood” language that the Georgia ACLU’s Andrea Young said is still unconstitutional.

“It redefines a person in the Georgia constitution to include an unborn child. And no more real definition than that,” Young, the Georgia ACLU’s executive director, said to11Alive News on Friday.

His heartbeat bill says, “Unborn children are a class of living, distinct person.” And later says, It shall be the policy of the State of Georgia to recognize unborn children as natural persons,”giving them constitutional protections. 

Although the heartbeat bill uses a fetal heartbeat as a guideline to outlaw abortion – the bill doesn’t use the heartbeat language to define the personhood of a fetus. It says, “‘Unborn child’ means a member of the species Homo sapiens at any stage of development who is carried in the womb.”

“People should clearly know what kind of activity is being prohibited. And there’s not sufficient clarity,” Young said.

Backers of the bill said the “personhood” provision strengthens the heartbeat bill. It potentially turns abortion cases into murder cases. It would also allow women to take legal action on paternal conflicts immediately after getting pregnant, rather than waiting for the baby’s birth.

Young hopes the court throws out the entire heartbeat bill based on the ACLU’s complaint of vagueness.

Late Friday night the ACLU submitted its arguments to the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta, on behalf of abortion rights groups that are trying to stop Georgia’s “heartbeat” abortion law from taking effect. It’s possible the court could rule as soon as next week. It’s also possible the court may decline to rule, and send the case back to the lower court for another look.