Georgia anti-abortion ‘heartbeat’ law unconstitutional, federal judge rules

A federal judge on Monday struck down an anti-abortion “heartbeat” law passed last year in Georgia, permanently blocking the measure after finding it unconstitutional.

The law barred most abortions in Georgia at the first sign of a fetal heartbeat, which can be detected as early as six weeks into pregnancy, often before women are aware that they’ve gotten pregnant.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia sued the state last year on behalf of nonprofit advocacy group SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective and several abortion providers. The group argued that the law violated a woman’s constitutional right to access abortion as established by the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling.

On Monday, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones sided with the group, adding that the law “is unconstitutionally vague.”

“H.B. 481 violates the constitutional right to privacy which, in turn, inflicts per se irreparable harm on plaintiffs,” Jones wrote in a 67-page order filed Monday in court.

The bill was signed into law in May 2019, though Jones issued a temporary injunction blocking its implementation in October and it never went into effect.

U.S. Supreme Court precedent has for nearly five decades held that states cannot ban abortion prior to the viability of a fetus, and since Georgia’s law does just that it is unconstitutional, the law’s opponents argued. The state argued that the law promoted fetal well-being.

It was widely considered as one of a number of attempts to create fresh legal challenges to abortion after two new conservative justices were confirmed to the Supreme Court. The high court, by a 5-4 ruling on June 29, struck down another of those challenges involving regulations from Louisiana.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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