Updated at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday
A federal judge issued a preliminary injunction Tuesday in Atlanta that blocks Georgia’s strict new anti-abortion law from taking effect Jan. 1.
Judge Steve Jones, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, issued his ruling Tuesday, putting a halt to the law while a court challenge likely proceeds. The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, representing several abortion rights groups suing the state, has argued the law that bans most abortions after six weeks violates a woman’s constitutional right to abortion.
Jones wrote that those groups suing the state are “likely to succeed” in having the law struck down as unconstitutional during a full trial.
Jones has yet to set a date for a trial to determine whether to issue a permanent injunction against the law. Under the preliminary injunction, the law will remain blocked until after Jones rules on the permanent injunction, which likely means it won’t take effect Jan. 1 as scheduled.
The judge wrote the U.S. Supreme Court has repeatedly upheld its precedent set in Roe v. Wade saying a state may not ban abortion before life is viable.
“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 said.
Opponents of the law hailed Tuesday’s ruling as a win for women’s rights.
“This case has always been about one thing: Letting her decide,” Sean Young, the legal director of the ACLU’s Georgia branch, said in a statement. “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but every woman is entitled to her own decision.”
Gov. Brian Kemp’s office said through Communications Director Candice Broce it is reviewing Jones’s ruling and still evaluating options. Attorney General Chris Carr’s office said after the governor signed the bill into law in May that its job is to defend the it in court.
“Despite today’s outcome, we remain confident in our position,” Broce said in an email. “We will continue to fight for the unborn and work to ensure that all Georgians have the opportunity to live, grow and prosper.”
The law stems from legislation state lawmakers passed last spring and Kemp signed soon after. It bans most abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected – about six weeks into a pregnancy, or before many women know they are pregnant. The bill drew fierce debate at the state Capitol during the 2019 Georgia General Assembly and has been characterized as one of the most restrictive abortion measures in the country.
A host of abortion rights plaintiffs, led by the nonprofit SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective and Planned Parenthood, filed suit in late June to stop the “heartbeat” law from taking effect in Georgia on Jan.1. They claimed the law would violate constitutional due-process rights to privacy and to terminate a pregnancy.
At last week’s court hearing, ACLU attorneys argued prohibiting abortions after six weeks would run counter to Roe V. Wade, which established that abortions should be permitted before a fetus reaches the “point of viability” between 24 to 28 weeks into a pregnancy. Attorneys for the state argued the law would not create an outright ban since it allows abortions before a heartbeat can be detected and in limited exceptions like medical emergencies.
Jones’s ruling follows preliminary injunctions federal judges issued in recent months against similar anti-abortion laws other states passed, including Mississippi, Kentucky, Arkansas, Ohio and Utah.
Local abortion rights advocates in Georgia applauded Jones’s ruling Tuesday and expressed hope that the temporary relief will become permanent. Among them was SisterSong’s executive director, Monica Simpson, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit.
“Ultimately, this is for us what reproductive justice is about,” Simpson said Tuesday. “It’s about centering our needs and being able to make decisions for ourselves.”
Prominent voices on both sides of the controversy took to social media after the ruling.
From the disappointed:
BREAKING: Georgia’s #Heartbeatbill has been blocked. This is yet another act of judicial activism against innocent #life. We will continue defending #HB481 to prevent @PPSE_Advocates and the @ACLUofGA from turning back the clock on #humanrights in Georgia. #gapol #prolife
— GA Life Alliance (@GaLifeAlliance) October 1, 2019
“Bad science, faulty precedent & an illogical, radical agenda have for too long dictated that the preborn lack the most basic right to life. We look forward with great hope to that changing with the recognition of GA’s right to protect its most vulnerable citizens.” #heartbeat
— FPA of Georgia (@FPAofGA) October 1, 2019
I believe the legislature did the right thing by passing #HB481. It took #courage to do the right thing to protect life, and I will continue to be courageous in speaking for those without a voice. #gapol
— Renee Unterman (@Renee_Unterman) October 1, 2019
To those who felt vindicated:
From the beginning, Georgia's unconstitutional abortion ban was wrong. Now, after months of opposition, we have validation from the court. Thank you to @SisterSong_WOC, @ACLUofGA, @PPSE_Advocates, and every single woman & physician who stood against HB 481. #StopTheBans #GaPol https://t.co/X5D3DoPpFz
— Jen Jordan (@senatorjen) October 1, 2019
The decision made by a federal judge today to block Georgia’s six-week abortion ban is a win for Georgian women and families. We will continue fighting against this atrocious law and the Republicans who forced it into effect.
Read my full statement here: https://t.co/0Uiwp9tQeX
— Nikema Williams (@DPGChair) October 1, 2019