Georgia Supreme Court Upholds Heartbeat Ban

The Georgia Supreme Court upheld the state’s six-week abortion ban in a 6-1 vote last week. It is known as the “Heartbeat Ban” because it prohibits abortion when cardiac activity is detected. // Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Members of the Georgia Supreme Court upheld a six-week abortion ban after a lower court deemed it unconstitutional. The court ruled 6-1 to hold the law in place on Oct. 24, 2023, sending the case back to the lower courts for additional argument. At the moment, this does not change any abortion policies in Georgia.

The six-week abortion ban otherwise known as the “Heartbeat” ban prohibits abortions after cardiac activity is detected, which at the earliest, can begin at six weeks of pregnancy, though this is not necessarily the case for all. Many of these laws do include exceptions for instances such as rape, incest or extreme medical danger to the mother.

Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, who originally signed the Heartbeat Law into place and is a staunch anti-abortion advocate, praised the court ruling.

“Today’s victory represents one more step towards ending this litigation and ensuring the lives of Georgians at all ages are protected,” Kemp said in a statement.

The ban was originally contested and deemed unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade in 2020 after the 2019 bill passed in the Georgia General Assembly. However, in June of 2022, the United States Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade, removing the constitutional right to abortion. This cleared the path for restrictions across the nation to take place and intensify in some states.

“When the United States Supreme Court overruled its precedent interpreting the United States Constitution, we are then obligated to apply the Court’s new interpretation of the Constitution’s meaning on matters of federal constitutional law,” Justice Verda Colvin wrote in the Georgia Supreme Court Decision.

Before Roe v. Wade was over-turned, states such as Ohio, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Alabama, Kentucky, South Carolina and Texas had passed variations of a Heartbeat bill that faced varying levels of contestation in state courts. After the reversal, several of these states outright banned any kind of abortion with Georgia being the only state left with a six-week ban.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is a nonprofit human rights organization that works to preserve rights and liberties granted in the Constitution.

“A six-week abortion ban is particularly dangerous in Georgia, where the maternal mortality rate is alarmingly high, especially among Black Georgians. Additionally, forced pregnancy can derail people’s education, career and life plans, resulting in greater economic hardship for the pregnant person, their children and their families,” the ACLU said in a statement.

This decision by the Georgia Supreme Court is another mark of the long-standing abortion debate in the U.S. Abortion debates have swept the nation, playing crucial roles in elections at the national and state levels. Both pro-life and pro-choice advocates have staunch stances, contributing to a lack of middle ground on the topic. Religion, healthcare, economics, equity issues and politics all play large parts in the constitutional and moral debates.

Dr. Mayra Pineda-Torres is an Assistant Professor in the School of Economics at the Institute and is currently studying the health and economic impacts of access to reproductive healthcare.

“Different studies have shown that some policies that restrict access to abortion negatively impact educational attainment and the financial security of those who are unable to access these services,” Dr. Pineda-Torres said.

According to their website, Americans United for Life is the first national pro-life organization, founded in 1971, two years before Roe v. Wade.

“From conception, the preborn human being has a unique and complete genetic composition derived from both the mother and the father. As early as five weeks’ gestation, the preborn human being’s heart begins beating. The preborn human being begins to move about in the womb at approximately eight weeks’ gestation,” they said in their statement.

The future of abortion in the U.S. is still yet to be determined, however, for the time being, and without Roe v. Wade, states are largely responsible for and free to decide what policies to enact. Georgia is just one of many examples of what abortion access looks like in a post Roe v. Wade America.

“It is unclear to me if Georgia will move from a gestational age limit to a total abortion ban,” Dr. Pineda-Torres said, “On the one hand, this may be possible given the trends we have observed in other states. On the other hand, some activist organizations and nonprofit organizations are actively working to keep abortion access feasible in the state.”

Abortion is likely to be a hot topic issue as the 2024 election season begins with another opportunity for Americans to vote for someone they feel will represent their views.

A poll released by the Pew Research Center found that roughly 62% of Americans believe that abortion should be legal in all/ most cases while 36% of Americans find that it should be illegal in all/most cases. 71% of people in the United States also say that an abortion would be difficult for them to obtain, which is about 50% more than the results of a similar poll in 2019.