The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments Dec. 1 on one of the most significant abortion cases in years, and the aftereffects of its ruling will be felt here in Georgia.
The case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization has drawn more than 1,000 friend-of-the-court briefs so far — including one from Georgia — on both sides of the issue.
The case revolves around Mississippi's abortion law, which bans the procedure after 15 weeks. That is nine weeks fewer than the 24-week precedent established by Roe v. Wade in 1973.
Georgia's brief was organized by the State Innovation Exchange's Reproductive Freedom Leadership Council, which describes itself as a "network of state legislators working to advance reproductive health, rights and justice."
The brief argues the Supreme Court's failure to uphold the rule of law and precedent would result in disastrous consequences for women seeking abortions, as well as for their families.
"State legislators are the first line of defense against policies that deliberately roll back progress on abortion rights and reproductive health across the
country, and the overwhelming majority of the public agrees we must protect Roe v. Wade," said the organization's Jennifer Driver. "With this amicus brief, nearly 900 legislators are sending the Supreme Court a clear message: We cannot go back. You must uphold 50 years of legal abortion in all 50 states."
Georgia's abortion law is currently tied up in the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is waiting on the Supreme Court decision before issuing a ruling. Known as the Living Infants Fairness Equality Act, it seeks to prevent abortions after a fetal heartbeat has been detected, typically six weeks into pregnancy, except in special situations.
Lawsuits brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights led the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia in December 2019 to rule the law unconstitutional. The legislation, which the General Assembly passed earlier that year, had been scheduled to take effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
If the 11th Circuit decides to strike down Georgia's abortion law in the case — SisterSong v. Kemp — Georgia could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which may then look at the law's constitutionality and reexamine the precedent of the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion on demand.
"A Georgia judge struck down Republicans' HB (House Bill) 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."
State Senate President Pro Tempore Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, disagrees.
"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 and who also helped author the bill. "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."
State lawmakers adjourned Nov. 22 after spending several weeks in special session, redrawing legislative and congressional district boundaries in accordance with new U.S. Census data. There was speculation that lawmakers would draft a new abortion law while in special session, but the issue never came up on either chamber's floor.
But the issue is almost certain to arise when legislators reconvene for their regular session in January, depending on the Supreme Court's rulings on abortion bans in both Mississippi and Texas.
A court ruling is expected soon on Texas' abortion law, which bans the procedure after roughly six weeks, a law that has been in effect since Sept. 1. The law bans abortion once cardiac activity is detected in the fetus, and makes no exceptions for rape or incest.
Opponents of Georgia's abortion law are fearful of a Texas-style law in Georgia, if the Supreme Court rules the law is constitutional.
"Texas is showing us what a world without Roe v. Wade looks like — one where wealthier people can travel to get reproductive care while poorer people are stripped of their rights," said Georgia Rep. Kim Schofield, D-Atlanta. "We can't let that happen."
"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."
While the Georgia and Texas laws are alike in banning abortions once cardiac activity is detected, Texas is different in that leaves enforcement of the law to private citizens through civil lawsuits instead of criminal prosecution.
Miller has told Capitol Beat "everything is on the table" regarding the abortion issue in Georgia.