Abortion rights protesters marched through Atlanta following the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder
With the Supreme Court’s decision to overrule Roe v. Wade Friday, abortion access is poised to face strict limits in Georgia, but Gov. Brian Kemp is facing calls to do more sooner than later to prevent abortions in the state.
Abortion remains legal in Georgia up to 20 weeks. That’s likely to shrink to around six weeks as soon as a court rules on the state’s 2019 anti-abortion law, which extends legal personhood to fetuses with detectable heartbeats. That decision could come at any time.
But a new petition circulated by Georgia Right to Life and a number of anti-abortion and conservative groups demands Kemp convene a special session of the state Legislature to vote on a constitutional amendment recognizing the right to life of all citizens beginning at fertilization.
“This is our historic opportunity to advance a Personhood Amendment in the State of Georgia to put an end to the scourge of elective abortions in this state—and shine a light to other states across the country and around the world,” the petition reads.
Kemp’s former GOP rival, David Perdue, slammed Kemp on the campaign trail for not committing to calling a special session after the decision leaked in May.
In an emailed statement, Kemp’s office indicated that the current priority is making sure the so-called LIFE Act survives its court challenge.
“In Georgia, we are focused on ensuring that our existing law, the Georgia LIFE Act, to protect the unborn is fully implemented,” said communications director Katie Byrd. “We are currently fighting a legal challenge (Sistersong v. Kemp) to that law before the 11th Circuit. On Friday June 24, 2022, our legal team filed a notice requesting the 11th Circuit to reverse the District Court’s decision and allow Georgia’s law to take effect.”
That’s not likely to placate the petitioners, who say they are concerned with the number of abortions that could take place before the law is settled and afterward because of its “broad exceptions.”
The LIFE Act allows abortions in some cases of rape or incest, when the pregnancy would cause the death or irreversible physical impairment of a pregnant woman or when a doctor determines the child will be incapable of survival.
“Immediate action is needed,” the petition reads. “No one knows what the outcome of the November election will be, and we do not have any assurance that pro-life leaders will be elected to serve in 2023. In fact, several thousand pre-born children may be legally murdered in our state before the beginning of the next regularly scheduled session.”
But even if Kemp wants to call a special session, it would likely be futile. Amending the state constitution requires two-thirds votes from both chambers. Republicans hold 34 of the 56 state Senate seats and would need four more to claim a supermajority.
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In the House, the GOP controls 103 seats out of 180, but they would need 120 to reach two-thirds.
A constitutional amendment would also require the approval of voters, which would be far from a sure thing in Georgia. A January Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll found 54% of voters said they oppose the 2019 abortion bill.
“They don’t have the votes in the Legislature nor in the Georgia electorate,” said Congresswoman Nikema Williams in a Monday press call. “In 2011, while vice president of public policy at Planned Parenthood Southeast, I led the campaign to defeat the personhood amendment on the ballot with 58% of Mississippi voters voting no, the most conservative state in the country.”
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