The Georgia Supreme Court has allowed the state’s six-week abortion ban to remain in effect

Georgia’s Supreme Court upheld the state’s abortion ban on Tuesday, rejecting arguments from doctors and advocacy groups that the law was unconstitutional when the state legislature approved it in 2019, more than three years before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

The ruling means abortion remains illegal in the state, with limited exceptions, after the sixth week of pregnancy – the point when most women don’t even realize they’re pregnant. With North Carolina now banning most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy, South Carolina after six weeks, and Florida doing the same, pending a legal challenge, the decision ensures that abortion will be largely unavailable in the Deep South, forcing women there to travel further for care , to more distant states such as Virginia or Illinois.

The Georgia case was not over, as the court only addressed the question of whether the state’s ban should have been struck down because of the timing of its passage. The court sent the case back to the lower court for a trial on the separate issue of whether the state constitution protects the right to privacy and whether that right includes abortion.

Still, the latest ruling in Georgia is a reminder that state constitutions have become key arbiters in the nation’s state-by-state abortion battles.

In his 6-1 decisionwhen one judge was disqualified and another did not participate, the Georgia Supreme Court relied heavily on the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, which struck down a national right to abortion, in interpreting Georgia’s law, the Live Infants and Equality Act, known as the life.

“Because Dobbs controls precedent on whether the United States Constitution confers a right to abortion, and because the parties and the trial court do not dispute that the LIFE Act is consistent with Dobbs, it follows that the LIFE Act did not violate the United States Constitution when it was enacted in 2019.” year”, concluded the state court.

On Tuesday morning, after the court issued its decision, Chris Carr, Georgia’s attorney general, said in a statement: “We are pleased with the court’s decision and will continue to defend the constitutionality of Georgia’s LIFE Act.”

When the Dobbs decision struck down the federal constitutional right to abortion in 2022, it left the abortion issue to the states to regulate. Since then, many of them have enacted abortion bans, and many lawsuits have been filed challenging the bans, with abortion rights lawyers arguing that the bans are unconstitutional under state guarantees of privacy, health, liberty, or family planning.

One of the most high-profile cases involves Florida, where the state Supreme Court heard oral arguments in September challenging the state’s 15-week ban.

Other state supreme courts that have ruled already this year have split on the issue: North Dakota and Oklahoma have found that their state constitutions protect the right in some situations. But Idaho has ruled that its Constitution does not protect abortion, and courts in South Carolina and Indiana have upheld abortion bans handed down since Dobbs.

The Iowa Supreme Court is deadlocked over whether to overturn a lower court’s injunction blocking a six-week abortion ban from going into effect. As a result, abortion remains legal in Iowa up to 20 weeks of pregnancy.

The Georgia case, brought by the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, focused on a state law doctrine known as void ab initio, meaning void from the beginning. That doctrine essentially says that a Georgia law that violates the state or federal constitution at the time it is enacted is forever unconstitutional, said Julia Kaye, senior staff attorney at the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Product, which argued the case before the Georgia Supreme Court.

Prosecutors prevailed in November at a lower level, when Judge Robert CI McBurney of Fulton County Superior Court ruled that the six-week ban was enacted when “everywhere in America, including Georgia, it was clearly unconstitutional for governments — federal, state, or local – ban abortions before viability.”

But a week later, the state Supreme Court temporarily reinstated the six-week ban, setting the stage for Tuesday’s ruling.

During oral arguments in March, the justices seemed receptive to the arguments they presented Stephen Petranyattorney general, that the decision of Dobbs applied retroactively and that Roe v. Wade was incorrect all along.

“When the decision is overturned, it is not a statement by this court or the Supreme Court that the basic constitution has changed,” Mr. Petrany said. “It’s a statement that the court made a mistake and that it acknowledges the mistake.”

In contrast, the judges in Georgia seemed skeptical of the arguments they presented Julia Blackburn Stoneattorney for the plaintiffs.

“Dobbs specifically says that the previous precedent was wrong,” said Judge Charlie Bethel.

In a statement highlighting the potential electoral stakes of the issue, Julia Chavez Rodriguez, campaign manager for the Biden-Harris re-election campaign, noted calls by some Republicans for a national ban on abortion and said, “The stakes couldn’t be higher: This election could determine whether for every woman in America to face the same terrifying reality that Georgians now face.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, congratulated and thanked Gov. Brian Kemp of Georgia and other allies who pushed for the six-week ban. She said in a statement that 25 states now “have pro-life protections in their law in the new Dobbs era.”

“When you lead and stand boldly for life, Americans will stand with you,” she said.

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