ATLANTA — As the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals prepares to hear the latest challenge to Georgia’s controversial abortion law, groups on both sides of the issue have their own hopes, expectations and aspirations before Friday’s hearing.
“A Georgia judge struck down Republicans’ HB 481 last year because the court saw it for what it was — an unconstitutional infringement on the right to choose — and we hope the 11th Circuit Court agrees,” said Rebecca Galanti, spokesperson for the Democratic Party of Georgia. “Democrats will continue to fight at every turn to safeguard reproductive freedom and stop Republicans’ dangerous anti-choice agenda in Georgia.”
One of the men who helped draft the law – state Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller, R-Gainesville – takes the other side.
“I’ve never subscribed to the idea that it’s unconstitutional to save human lives,” said Miller, who is running for lieutenant governor in 2022. “With today’s technology, it’s no longer possible to deny the clear humanity of unborn children, even at early stages of pregnancy. Upholding Georgia’s law would send a clear message that we as a society will protect our most vulnerable and defenseless.”
Georgia’s abortion bill – HB 481, known as the Living Infants Fairness Equality Act – seeks to prevent abortions after a fetal heartbeat has been detected, typically six weeks, except in special situations. Lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights eventually led the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia to rule the law unconstitutional.
“Whether you look at things like the unborn child tax credit and child support for expectant mothers in the Heartbeat Bill, or at other laws like the Rape Survivor Custody Act and this year’s [temporary protection order that extends to pregnant women,] it is clear that Georgia has consistently treated preborn children as persons, as defined in the 14th Amendment,” said Joshua Edmonds, Georgia Life Alliance executive director. “We expect there will be a great deal of conversation about why the portion of the law prohibiting abortion on babies with beating hearts should be treated any differently.”
Last week, Georgia Democrats specifically expressed their concern that a Texas-style abortion bill could soon be introduced in the state.
“What happens in Texas won’t stay in Texas,” said state Rep. Beth Moore, D-Peachtree Corners. “Not every pregnancy is an immaculate conception or a Hollywood-produced drama. There is a limit to what government can impose, and the Republican Party wants to replace God with government.”
Like the Georgia bill, the Texas law prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity, usually around six weeks. The Texas law leaves enforcement to private citizens through civil lawsuits instead of criminal prosecutors.
Last week, Miller told Capitol Beat “everything is on the table” regarding the abortion issue in Georgia. “My goal is to protect life, and we’re waiting to see what the courts say,” Miller said.
If the 11th Circuit agrees with the district judge, Georgia could then appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which may then look at the law’s constitutionality and reexamine the precedent of Roe v. Wade.
“Georgia’s HB 481 law is blatantly unconstitutional; that’s why it was blocked by the courts last year and why we expect it to stay that way following Friday’s hearing,” said Lauren Frazier, Planned Parenthood Southeast spokesperson. “When the data shows that nearly 80% of people in this country support access to safe, legal abortion, it’s clear that these sorts of attacks are purely political and completely against the will of the people. Planned Parenthood Southeast and our partners are prepared to fight any attempts to deny Georgians their right to make their own health care decisions.”
Gov. Brian Kemp also is expected to call a special legislative session, likely in November, to redraw the state’s congressional and legislative districts under newly released U.S. Census figures.
“It has been suggested that while we’re in session, we could consider other measures, such as a Texas-modeled abortion law,” Moore said.
U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, said special legislative sessions are called for a specific purpose – such as redistricting – but a two-thirds majority vote of the General Assembly could expand its originally called purpose.