Heartbeat Bill

On Oct. 1, U.S. District Court Judge Steve C. Jones blocked the controversial "heartbeat" legislation from taking effect, which was scheduled for Jan. 1, 2020.

Of the bills passed in the 2019 Georgia legislative session, one that received national attention and controversy was the fetal “heartbeat” abortion bill.

The law bans abortions once fetal cardiac activity is detected, which occurs at approximately six weeks before many people know they are pregnant.

After passing both houses, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed the Living Infants Fairness and Equality Act, or House Bill 481, into law in May. On Oct. 1, however, U.S. District Court Judge Steve C. Jones blocked the legislation from taking effect, which was scheduled for Jan. 1, 2020.

Jacqueline Elsner, a member of Indivisible Georgia District 10, a political advocacy group with a goal to “protect democracy,” has no doubt the case will reach the Supreme Court, and believes it has a high chance of overturning current law.

“Nationally, more American citizens support abortion rights,” Elsner said. “The consequence of gerrymandering in our elections for many years means socially conservative Republicans are elected, though many of their constituents do not agree with their positions on abortions.”

According to the Pew Research Center, 61% of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases as of 2019.

Deborah Gonzalez, former state representative for Georgia House District 117 and candidate for District Attorney of the Western Judicial Circuit, opposes the HB 481 legislation. Upon hearing that it had been blocked, she was unsurprised but considered it a small victory for the abortion rights movement.

“Banning abortion does not mean abortions aren’t going to happen,” Gonzalez said. “In effect, what you’re doing is you’re banning safe abortions. You’re making abortions go back underground, and women are going to die like they did before Roe v. Wade.”

The American Civil Liberties Union challenged the law in June with SisterSong v. Kemp, citing a violation of the Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade. Plaintiffs include SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, Planned Parenthood Southeast, Inc. and other doctors and healthcare providers.

“This is a victory for people in Georgia and a reminder that these attacks on abortion access are illegal,” said Talcott Camp, deputy director of the ACLU’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “Abortion is still legal in all 50 states. We won't stop fighting until we defeat all efforts to block access.”

Jones, an Athens native and UGA School of Law graduate, is presiding over the case and issued a preliminary injunction temporarily preventing the state from enforcing the law.

“What is clearly defined, however, is that under no circumstances whatsoever may a state prohibit or ban abortions at any point prior to viability, no matter what interests the state asserts to support it,” Jones wrote in the injunction. “By banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, HB 481 prohibits women from making the ultimate decision to terminate her pregnancy at a point before viability.”

It is not yet confirmed if Kemp’s office will be appealing Jones’s decision, but it is under review by his office. Governor’s Office spokeswoman Candice Broce said “we will continue to fight for the unborn and work to ensure that all Georgians have the opportunity to live, grow and prosper.”

By passing the bill, Georgia joined several other states, including Alabama, Kentucky, Louisiana, Ohio, Missouri, Utah, and Arkansas at attempting to restrict abortion. However, all other six-week bans have also been blocked in court.

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