Judge Blocks Georgia Heartbeat Bill

Young women from Paideia High School hold signs during a protest against recently passed abortion ban bills at the Georgia State Capitol building, (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images)
October 1, 2019

A federal judge blocked Georgia's heartbeat bill from going into effect, striking a blow against the pro-life movement that has seen significant legislative achievements repeatedly blunted by the courts.

District judge Steve C. Jones granted a preliminary injunction that prevents the state from enforcing a new law limiting abortions after a baby's heartbeat is detected, which typically occurs at six weeks. Jones said the bill potentially violates the privacy rights of women in the state. The ruling will preserve the state's existing abortion regulations until the court weighs the merits of the law.

Governor Brian Kemp (R.) signed the bill, dubbed the LIFE Act, into law in May. The law granted personhood rights to unborn children and banned most abortions with exceptions granted for cases of rape, incest, and health of the mother. Kemp said the law protects "those who cannot speak for themselves" and "reaffirms Georgia's commitment to life and the rights of the innocent unborn." The law was scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

Lawyers for the Americans Civil Liberties Union challenged the bill on behalf of pro-abortion groups and requested Jones make a decision before the end of the year. Attorney Susan Talcott Camp argued any law that prohibits abortion before the point of fetal viability violates the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which struck down state restrictions on abortion, as well as the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, which declared that state laws inhibiting abortion access were unconstitutional.

Pro-life groups criticized the decision. Terry Schilling, the executive director of the American Principles Project, ripped the decision as thwarting efforts to "defend life at its most vulnerable."

"Once again, the perverse logic of Roe v. Wade has reared its ugly head," he said. "It's long past time for the Supreme Court to finally do away with this disastrous precedent."

Planned Parenthood celebrated the ruling, saying it was committed to defending abortion in states that have adopted pro-life laws.

"This is a victory for Georgia and people all across the country," spokeswoman Barbara Ann Luttrell told CBS News. "We promise the people we serve and the people across the state to protect access to abortion and together we have."

Georgia is not the first state to see pro-life legislation thwarted by federal or state court judges. Several states that have passed similar heartbeat laws have temporarily halted implementation in the face of legal challenges from pro-abortion groups such as Planned Parenthood.

Georgia can still appeal the temporary injunction, which Judge Jones acknowledged in a September hearing. "I recognize I’m not going to be the last word on this case," he said when he began reviewing the law, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.