Four things to know about Georgia’s ‘heartbeat’ abortion law

Gov. Brian Kemp signed Georgia’s anti-abortion “heartbeat” bill Tuesday morning following the lead of several other states and setting up a legal battle that could land in the U.S. Supreme Court.

Here’s what you need to know about the law.

What will the new law be?

The Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act effectively outlaws abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected.

A fetal heartbeat can be detected at five or six weeks, and most women learn they are pregnant between four and seven weeks, according to the American Pregnancy Association.

Exceptions to the law would include:

The abortion would prevent the death or severe physical impairment of the mother.

The pregnancy is 20 weeks or less along, and the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. There must be an official police report alleging an offense of rape or incest occurred.

A doctor determines the pregnancy is “medically futile,” meaning that a severe and incurable birth defect or chromosomal abnormality would result in the child having little to no life expectancy.

The act argues that “modern medical science, not available decades ago, demonstrates that unborn children are a class of living, distinct persons.” Further, the act states that “more expansive state recognition of unborn children as persons did not exist when Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) and Roe v. Wade (1973) established abortion-related precedents.”

The current state law prevents abortions after 20 weeks with exceptions for medical emergencies.

When the law go into effect?

Section 15 of the act states the abortion law would become effective on Jan. 1, 2020. That could change if the law is challenged in court.

Will it be challenged in court?

It is almost certain. The ACLU of Georgia previously promised to challenge the law in court.

Monday, the organization said in a press release that Georgia couldn’t afford to go backward on women’s health and rights.

“Women are leaders in this state, a state that for 50 years has respected a woman’s right to make her own reproductive health decisions. Today’s women can only thrive in a state that protects their most basic rights — the right to choose when and whether to start or expand a family,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia. “We will act to block this assault on women’s health, rights, and self-determination.”

Those court challenges are something that lawmakers who support these bills want. Many of them see the current political climate and the makeup of the Supreme Court as an opportunity to roll back federal abortion protections, said Kristin Ford, national communications director for NARAL Pro-Choice America, a national abortion-rights lobbying group.

“The anti-choice movement feels very emboldened given the makeup of the Supreme Court and having Brett Kavanaugh sitting on the court, seemingly an ally to those trying to overturn Roe v. Wade and get rid of access to safe and legal abortions,” she said.

Georgia Rep. Ed Setzler, one of the sponsors of Georgia’s bill, told the AJC in March that the bill “recognized the fundamental life of the child in the womb is worthy of legal protection and balances that basic right to life with the very different situations women find themselves in in pregnancies.”

The New York Times reported that Setzler spoke to a conservative group in the Atlanta suburbs in March about the legal battle surrounding the state’s heartbeat bill. The Times reported that Setzler told audience members that they must support Gov. Kemp as “he recruits the best legal team in the nation to take this to the highest court in the land.”

How does the law compare to other states?

Georgia is one of a handful of states that passed “heartbeat” bills this legislative session including Kentucky, Ohio and Mississippi. A few others have previously enacted similar legislation.

Some states don’t include rape or incest exemptions under which mothers could have abortions. According to bill language, Kentucky, Ohio and Mississippi don’t include these exemptions.

Alabama is considering a law that would make performing an abortion a felony and punishable by 20 to 99 years in prison. This includes abortions performed by doctors. There are exceptions for cases where there are “serious health risks to the unborn child’s mother” but not for cases of rape or incest, reports

The bill passed the state House and is moving to the state Senate.

No state has put a “heartbeat” bill into lasting practice. A federal judge in Kentucky prevented that state’s law from taking effect earlier this year. A state judge struck down Iowa’s 2018 fetal heartbeat law earlier this year. Lower courts struck down North Dakota’s 2013 fetal heartbeat bill, and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the North Dakota court’s decision in 2016.

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