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Georgia Supreme Court Upholds ‘Heartbeat’ Law Banning Abortion

Articles | October 25, 2023 | by Catholics for Catholics

By Peter Pinedo of Catholic News Agency

The Supreme Court of Georgia on Tuesday upheld the state’s “heartbeat” law that bans abortion at six weeks and recognizes the personhood of unborn babies.

The 6-1 decision allows the “Living Infants Fairness and Equality” (LIFE) Act law to remain in effect while other challenges to the measure are further considered by the court. 

heartbeat law protected

This means that abortion in Georgia is banned after an unborn baby’s heartbeat is detectable, except in some cases of rape and incest and situations of serious pregnancy complications. 

Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America (SBA), which advocated for the law, called the decision a “major victory for life” in a Tuesday statement.

“Today’s Georgia Supreme Court decision ensures that tens of thousands of children with beating hearts will continue to be protected from brutal abortions,” said SBA President Marjorie Dannenfelser.

Originally passed by the state Assembly in 2019, the LIFE Act was immediately sued by pro-abortion groups and blocked because it violated Roe v. Wade. The law remained null until the summer of 2022, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe in its Dobbs v. Jackson decision.

life act challenged

Despite Roe’s downfall, the legal challenges against the LIFE Act continued, leading to the Georgia Supreme Court ruling on Tuesday.

The court cited Dobbs as the basis for its decision upholding the LIFE Act.

The ruling, written by Justice Verda Colvin, said that “because the United States Supreme Court clearly ruled in Dobbs that Roe and its progeny no longer control” the legality of abortion, courts must now “faithfully apply Dobbs” regarding the meaning of the U.S. Constitution.  

While two members of the Georgia Supreme Court abstained, Justice John Ellington was the sole dissenting opinion in the decision.

In his dissent, Ellington said that because of a legal principle called the void ab initio (void from the beginning) doctrine, the LIFE Act was invalid when passed and remains so despite the more recent Dobbs decision.

Ellington called this principle a “bulwark against legislative overreach” that “prevents subsequent judicial constructions from peeling away a legislative act’s voidness from inception.”

Katie Daniel, SBA’s state policy director, told CNA that the Georgia court “got it right” by ruling that its “role is to interpret the law, not make the law.”

While Daniel said that Roe allowed courts to essentially create laws and policy, she said that “an entire mess of jurisprudence flowing from that was finally undone in the Dobbs decision.”

“For 50 years under Roe, we the people did not get a say in what policy was going to govern us,” she said.

Now, Daniel said, “the people of Georgia have spoken.”

heartbeat law welcomed

“They supported the lawmakers who passed this law,” she explained. “This is the policy that Georgians prefer. So that should be the policy that governs.”

Besides banning abortion at six weeks, the LIFE Act also establishes that unborn babies are human persons in the eyes of the law, allows mothers to receive child support from the beginning of pregnancy, and allows parents to claim unborn babies as dependents on state income taxes.

The law says that “modern medical science, not available decades ago, demonstrates that unborn children are a class of living, distinct persons” and that it “shall be the policy of the state of Georgia to recognize unborn children as natural persons.”

By “natural person,” the LIFE Act explains that it means “any human being including an unborn child.”

The ruling is yet another pro-life victory in what Daniel said has been a “tremendous first year under Dobbs.”

While only one state had a heartbeat law before Dobbs, 25 states have now enacted policies to protect unborn babies from the point when they can feel pain or earlier, according to Daniel.  

In August, the South Carolina Supreme Court upheld a similar heartbeat law protecting unborn babies at six weeks. In Florida, another heartbeat law is being considered by the state Supreme Court in a case that could end up reversing the Florida Constitution’s right to abortion established under Roe.

“There’s been an enormous amount of momentum in the last year, and we’re very optimistic,” Daniel said. “We know there will be hard fights, but there are also great opportunities.”

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