FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: August 15, 2022
ATLANTA — Today, the Superior Court of Fulton County refused to block Georgia’s six-week abortion ban, allowing the state to continue criminalizing essential health care past the earliest weeks of pregnancy: banning abortion just two weeks after a person’s first missed period and before many people even know they are pregnant. The ruling comes after Georgia abortion providers and advocates filed a lawsuit last month challenging the six-week ban (H.B. 481), which went into effect on July 20 for the first time since it was passed in 2019. Today’s ruling only denied immediate emergency relief and is not a final resolution of the case. Providers and advocates will continue to fight the ban in courts and explore every option to block Gov. Kemp’s abortion ban.
The Georgia court declined to block the state’s six-week ban based on a narrow interpretation of a constitutional amendment passed overwhelmingly by Georgia voters in 2020, which gave Georgia courts the power to hold state officials accountable for unconstitutional laws. Today’s ruling, which declares that Georgia courts are not permitted to preliminarily enjoin unlawful state actions to prevent irreversible harm, could have broader implications outside of abortion access and foreclose Georgians from obtaining emergency relief from other unconstitutional state actions.
Below are statements from plaintiffs and litigators:
“We are deeply disappointed that the Court is allowing our state’s extreme six-week abortion ban to remain in effect and is putting thousands of Georgians in danger by denying them essential health care,” said Monica Simpson, Executive Director of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, the lead plaintiff in the case. “Let’s be clear, SisterSong and our partners have been in this fight for bodily autonomy since the beginning and we are not done. We know the impacts of forced pregnancy on individuals and communities: among them economic hardships and in Georgia, the exacerbation of an alarmingly high maternal mortality rate among Black women. Our vision for Georgia is that everyone including Queer, trans, and low-income people have the freedom to decide to have children, to not have children, and to raise the families they have in thriving communities. We will continue to show up until this becomes a reality.”
“While the court emphasized that its ruling is purely technical and does not address the constitutional merits, it is horrifying that, for now, Gov. Kemp and his extremist allies can continue to subject Georgians to the severe medical risks and life-altering impacts of forced pregnancy and childbirth,” said Julia Kaye, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “Gov. Kemp’s indifference to the suffering of pregnant Georgians is shameful – particularly given the state’s crisis of pregnancy-related deaths among Black women. Georgia’s state constitution clearly protects against this government overreach, and we won’t stop fighting until this devastating ban on essential health care is blocked once and for all.”
“The court’s decision today declining to block the abortion ban is extremely disappointing and leaves in place a law that severely compromises the quality of women’s healthcare in the state of Georgia,” said Andrea Young, executive director of ACLU of Georgia. “Ultimately, the power is with Georgia voters to affirm our right to privacy and to make personal, private and intimate decisions without government interference.”
“It is devastating that Georgians will continue to suffer the consequences of this abortion ban,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “For weeks, Georgia politicians have left people seeking abortion with very few options: forcing them to either travel outside of their community or continue pregnancies against their will. This ban is inhumane and unjust, and disproportionately harms Black Georgians, people with low incomes, and those living in rural communities with disparate access to care. It's frankly unimaginable that these are the policies in place where maternal mortality is high and access to care is dangerously limited. While the court has decided not to intervene right now, we refuse to back down. Planned Parenthood will never stop fighting until Georgians finally get the reprieve they deserve.”
“Georgians deserve better than this. It’s been less than a month and already we’ve had to turn away hundreds of patients since this ban took effect,” said Amy Kennedy, vice president of external affairs at Planned Parenthood Southeast. “Today’s ruling means that pregnant Georgians will continue to live in fear and uncertainty — unable to exercise control over their own lives and futures. Planned Parenthood Southeast will continue to stand by our patients and fight against this egregious ban in solidarity with our movement partners — no matter what.”
"This is a devastating setback for our community," said Kwajelyn Jackson, executive director of Feminist Women’s Health Center. "Our mission for the last nearly 50 years has been to provide our patients with essential, compassionate reproductive health care, including abortion. We will continue to fight for our patients and their right to access all of the health care they need."
"Today’s decision is completely out of step with what the majority of Georgians want, which is to be able to make decisions about their own lives, families, and futures," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. "Extreme abortion bans like this one and worse are being enforced across the country, with more to come at the end of the month. This fight is long, but it isn't over. We will continue to fight tooth and nail for the right of Georgians to access abortion."
Georgia’s six-week ban was previously enjoined by a federal district court shortly after Gov. Brian Kemp signed H.B. 481 into law in 2019, and the law had remained blocked as the case made its way through the federal courts. However, three weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the district court’s injunction. The 11th Circuit also took a highly unorthodox action of putting H.B. 481 into effect immediately, with no warning to health care providers or patients, rather than waiting the standard 28-day period. When the six-week ban went into effect, it caused an immediate crisis as clinics were forced to turn away patients in waiting rooms across the state and to cancel many upcoming appointments. Abortion providers and advocates filed a new state constitutional challenge one week later and asked the court to immediately block the ban while the lawsuit proceeds, which led to today’s ruling.
The state court challenge asserts that (1) the six-week ban was void from the start under Georgia judicial precedent because it clearly violated federal constitutional precedent when enacted in 2019, and a subsequent change in federal law cannot revive it; and (2) the Georgia Constitution’s especially strong protection for the fundamental right to privacy prohibits this political interference with an individual’s deeply personal and medically consequential decision whether to continue a pregnancy.
The lawsuit also includes a state constitutional challenge to a provision of Georgia law, expanded by H.B. 481, which violates Georgians’ privacy rights by giving prosecutors unfettered access to abortion patients’ private medical records without any due process.
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.This case was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Georgia, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, and Georgia-based law firms Caplan Cobb and Bondurant Mixson & Elmore on behalf of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, Feminist Women’s Health Center, Planned Parenthood Southeast, Inc., Atlanta Comprehensive Wellness Clinic, Atlanta Women’s Medical Center, FemHealth USA d/b/a carafem, Summit Medical Associates, P.C., Carrie Cwiak, M.D., M.P.H., Lisa Haddad, M.D., M.S., M.P.H., Eva Lathrop, M.D., M.P.H., and Medical Students for Choice.
A copy of the order issued today can be found here: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/sistersong-v-georgia-order-dismissing-plaintiffs-pi-motion
An overview of the case can be found online here: https://www.aclu.org/press-releases/georgia-doctors-and-advocates-file-new-challenge-six-week-abortion-ban-state-court