Federal Appeals Court Allows Georgia’s Heartbeat Law To Take Effect

Federal Appeals Court Allows Georgia’s Heartbeat Law To Take Effect

A federal appeals court overturned a lower court ruling July 20, allowing Georgia’s heartbeat law to take effect.

A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heavily cited the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which upheld a Mississippi law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy and subsequently overturned Roe v. Wade.

“Intervening Supreme Court precedent, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org makes clear that no right to abortion exists under the Constitution, so Georgia may prohibit them,” U.S. Circuit Judge William Pryor wrote on behalf of the panel.

“Georgia’s prohibition on abortions after detectable human heartbeat is rational,” he added. “‘[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.”

The law, known as the Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act, bans abortions after a heartbeat is detected, which is typically around the sixth week of pregnancy. Women were previously allowed to abort up to 20 weeks in Georgia.

In July 2020, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones struck down the Georgia law, leading to the appeal. At the time, Jones found the law violated a woman’s right to an abortion as established by the precedent set in Roe v. Wade.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution describes Georgia’s law as different from most heartbeat legislation “because it includes so-called personhood provisions, extending rights to an embryo once fetal cardiac activity can be detected. Parents would be able to claim a fetus, once a heartbeat is detected, on their state income taxes as a dependent, and the measure would also require state officials to count an unborn child toward Georgia’s population. Mothers can also file for child support once cardiac activity is detected.”

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, in a video alongside his wife on July 20, said he was “overjoyed” by the 11th Circuit’s ruling:

“Since taking office in 2019, our family has committed to serving Georgia in a way that cherishes and values each and every human being,” he said, “and today’s decision by the 11th Circuit affirms our promise to protect life at all stages.” 

Georgia Life Alliance, the largest pro-life group in the state, also celebrated the ruling.

“As we have been predicting for weeks now, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld Georgia’s heartbeat bill in light of the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade,” the organization said. “… Georgia is now the first state in the nation to recognize the personhood of preborn babies, making our heartbeat bill the strongest pro-life law in the nation.”

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