Abortion Providers Sue Over Georgia Fetal-Heartbeat Law

Georgia members of the Handmaid Coalition protest the passage of HB 481 outside the Capitol on March 8, 2019, in Atlanta. (Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

(CN) – In the latest effort to block abortion restrictions in conservative states, providers and advocacy groups filed a federal lawsuit Friday challenging Georgia’s new law that makes it nearly impossible for women to get an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.

Planned Parenthood, Feminist Women’s Health Center, SisterSong and others are asking a judge to stop the controversial House Bill 481 from taking effect January next year. Their complaint was filed in Atlanta federal court by attorneys with the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights.

HB 481 – also known as the Living Infants Fairness and Equality, or LIFE, Act – is one of many in a recent wave of state governments acting to restrict abortions.

With few exceptions, it bans abortions after doctors are able to detect a fetal heartbeat, which is usually possible at six weeks of pregnancy – earlier than most women even know they are pregnant.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican who pledged during his campaign last year to enact the “toughest abortion laws in the country,” signed HB 481 into law May 7.

Under the new law, Georgia will recognize the presence of a heartbeat as the point of fetal viability and a woman will generally not be able to have an abortion after a heartbeat is detected.

Exceptions will be made in cases of rape, incest, if the life of woman is in danger or if a doctor determines the fetus would not survive after birth. However, women who become pregnant as a result of rape or incest would have to file an official police report in order to be eligible to receive an abortion under the new law.

Friday’s lawsuit claims that the threat of criminal liability posed by the law is likely to have a chilling effect on health care providers in Georgia. The plaintiffs also argue the law could force pregnant women to travel over state lines for reproductive health care.

“This law is an affront to the dignity and health of Georgians. It is in particular an attack on low-income Georgians, Georgians of color, and rural Georgians, who are least able to access medical care and least able to overcome the cruelties of this law,” the complaint states.

Sean J. Young, legal director of the ACLU of Georgia, said in a statement that the legislation “is blatantly unconstitutional under nearly 50 years of U.S. Supreme Court precedent.”

“Politicians should never second guess women’s health care decisions,” Young said. “Politicians have no business telling women or a couple when to start or expand a family.”

But Genevieve Wilson with Georgia Right to Life said in an interview that the law is does not do enough to protect every unborn child indiscriminately, including those conceived after an incident of rape or fetuses deemed unlikely to survive after birth by a doctor.

Barbara Ann Luttrell, spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood Southeast, said the law is a death sentence for women in Georgia.

“Quite frankly, women will die,” Luttrell said. “Particularly in a state where the maternal death rate, especially for women of color, is one of the worst in the country.”

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