A federal appeals court on Wednesday overturned a lower court ruling and said Georgia’s restrictive 2019 abortion law should be allowed to take effect.
The Georgia law bans most abortions once a “detectable human heartbeat” is present. Cardiac activity can be detected by ultrasound in cells within an embryo that will eventually become the heart as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women realize they’re pregnant.
The Georgia law includes exceptions for rape and incest, as long as a police report is filed. It also provides for later abortions when the mother’s life is at risk or a serious medical condition renders a fetus unviable.
The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said that a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a Mississippi case that overturned Roe v. Wade clears the way for the law to take effect. The appeals court also rejected arguments that a “personhood” provision in the law is unconstitutionally vague.
A federal judge put the law on hold before it could take effect and in July 2020 permanently blocked it, saying it was unconstitutional under the Supreme Court precedent that was recently overturned. The state appealed to the 11th Circuit, and a three-judge panel of the appeals court last fall said it would wait for the Supreme Court ruling in the Mississippi case before taking action on Georgia’s appeal.
The Supreme Court ruled on June 24 and Georgia’s attorney general asked the appeals court that afternoon to overturn the lower court ruling and allow the state’s abortion law to take effect.