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Appeals court unanimously upholds Georgia’s Heartbeat Act

by | Jul 21, 2022

By Dave Andrusko

A three judge panel of the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously gave Georgia the go ahead to enforce the Living Infants Fairness and Equality Act [LIFE] , which bans abortions after the baby’s heartbeat can be detected.

The Atlanta-based appeals court “ruled Wednesday that since the Dobbs decision established that abortion is not protected by any constitutional provision, laws attempting to regulate abortion should be upheld if there is a rational basis for the legislature’s belief that the regulation would serve ‘legitimate state interests,’” Kayla Goggin of Courthouse News reported.

Writing on behalf of the panel, U.S. Circuit Judge William Pryor said that preserving unborn life “at all stages of development” is “categorically a legitimate state interest.”

“Georgia’s prohibition on abortions after detectable human heartbeat is rational,’ Judge Pryor wrote. ‘[R]espect for and preservation of prenatal life at all stages of development’ is a legitimate interest. The Georgia Legislature’s findings acknowledge a state interest in “providing full legal recognition to an unborn child.’ That ‘legitimate interest provide[s] a rational basis for’ and ‘justif[ies]’ the Act,” quotes from the LIFE Act and Dobbs.

“We are overjoyed that the court has paved the way for the implementation of Georgia’s LIFE Act, and as mothers navigate pregnancy, birth, parenthood, or alternative options to parenthood – like adoption – Georgia’s public, private, and non-profit sectors stand ready to provide the resources they need to be safe, healthy, and informed,” Gov. Brian Kemp said. “Our family has committed to serving Georgia in a way that cherishes and values each and every human being, and today’s decision by the 11th Circuit affirms our promise to protect life at all stages,” Mr. Kemp said in a statement posted on Twitter.

Pro-abortion Democrat Stacey Abrams, Kemp’s opponent in November’s election, harshly criticized her GOP opponent.

“Today, Kemp achieved his goal: to endanger women, strip away our right to choose, and deny our ability to determine what is best for our bodies,” Abrams said. “In a state where pregnancy is too often fatal, he is proud of denying women the right to make medical decisions for themselves.”

Martha Zoller, executive director for Georgia Life Alliance, NRLC’s state affiliate said that her organization expected the 2019 bill to be upheld after the Supreme Court’s ruling on Dobbs came down last month.

She characterized Wednesday’s ruling as a “mic drop” moment.

“Wednesday’s decision is a strong example of how elected leaders listen to their constituents who have been on the pro-life side of abortion and make laws that they want to see passed,” Zoller said. She added, “This is another step on the way to a post-Roe Georgia and we are ready.”

First passed in 2019, the LIFE Act was quickly challenged by abortion rights advocates. U.S. District Judge Steve Jones ruled against the state and temporarily blocked the law in October. His July 13, 2020 ruling  permanently enjoined the state from ever enforcing House Bill 48.

“State officials appealed and the 11th Circuit decided in September that it would wait for the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in a Mississippi case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, before issuing a ruling,” Goggin wrote.

“The decision allowing the law to go into effect has been expected since the Supreme Court issued its June ruling in Dobbs, finding that there is no constitutional right to abortion and overturning Roe v. Wade.”

Categories: State Legislation
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