The U.S. Supreme Court delivered a highly-charged decision on the future of abortion rights Friday, overturning a half-century of federal protections for women seeking abortions by striking down Roe v. Wade.
The fight now heads to states like Georgia, where a three-year-old, so-called “heartbeat bill” that bans abortions at six weeks into pregnancy has been tied up in litigation. The contested law is essentially a ban on abortion altogether because many women don’t even know they are pregnant at six weeks.
Roe v. Wade made it unconstitutional to ban abortion before a fetus is viable, but Friday’s decision puts the state law back in play. Georgia’s case is currently pending at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
Right-wing Georgia politicians swiftly seized upon the Supreme Court’s ruling, while Democrats pushed back. Republican Attorney General Chris Carr asked the 11th Circuit on Friday to “immediately reverse the Atlanta federal district court’s ruling that the 6-week abortion ban is unconstitutional and allow it to take effect.”
His Democratic opponent in the attorney general race used the opportunity to declare war. “Georgia is the next battleground for reproductive freedom. Our fundamental rights are on the ballot this November,” State Senator Jen Jordan tweeted in response to Friday’s ruling.
Georgia has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the nation, And Black women are twice as likely as white women to die in childbirth, Jordan added. She also noted that 78 of Georgia’s 159 counties have no OB/GYN services and 63 counties have no pediatricians.
Republican Gov. Brian Kemp quickly tweeted that the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade gives “renewed momentum” to his efforts to enact an abortion ban at six weeks for Georgia women.
“We are continuing our legal efforts … and we’re confident that Georgia’s LIFE Act will soon be fully implemented,” Kemp tweeted, referring to the abortion ban’s official name: The Living Infants Fairness and Equality Act.
The six-week abortion ban will likely face fierce opposition if it does go into effect. Some metro Atlanta prosecutors have said they would follow the new law, but DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston has repeatedly said she will not prosecute anyone under it.
Friday’s historic decision will be a lightning rod for many voters in November’s midterm election, veteran Georgia political observer Charles Bullock said. The question, he said, is to what extent will overturning Roe v. Wade galvanize white, college-educated women — a key swing group in Georgia — to vote Democratic.
About 44% of white, college-educated women voted Democratic in the 2020 presidential election, but a “sizable minority” voted for Donald Trump, the University of Georgia political science professor told Atlanta Civic Circle. “The college-educated white voter is the one whom Democrats can hope to appeal to,” he added.
Meanwhile, one Atlanta women’s health clinic that provides abortions remains “undaunted” by Friday’s decision.
“As of today in Georgia, for the short-term immediate future, abortion is accessible and available,” Kwajelyn Jackson, the Feminist Women’s Health Center’s executive director, told Atlanta Civic Circle.
The center, which provides both abortion procedures and abortifacients, is one of About eight clinics in metro Atlanta that supply abortion services, Jackson said. She estimates there are about a dozen abortion clinics statewide.
Jackson emphasized that Georgia currently has no laws in place to prevent women from getting abortions. “Georgia did not have a pre-Roe ban of abortion on the books, nor did it have a trigger-ban related to the Roe decision,” she said. “The only thing that is currently in place in Georgia is the six-week ban and that law is currently enjoined in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.”
Bullock, a 50-year observer of U.S. politics, said the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down Roe v. Wade is a watershed moment in American history. Never before has the Supreme Court granted and then taken away a constitutional right for people.
“For all women who are within the childbearing years, this is an entirely different world now,” he said.
How did we get here?
In a 6-3 decision on Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that women have a constitutional right to an abortion because the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process clause provides a fundamental right to privacy. The decision was triggered by a Mississippi case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
Nearly half of the states, including Georgia, are expected to outlaw or severely restrict abortion rights as a result of the Supreme Court’s June 24 decision.
Who was Roe and why is this decision important?
Jane Roe was the pseudonym for Norma McCorvey, a 22-year-old, unmarried pregnant woman in Dallas who wanted to end her pregnancy. At the time, Texas law banned abortion unless the mother’s life was in danger. In 1973, her case went to the Supreme Court, which ruled 7-2 in her favor.
The decision, authored by Justice Harry Blackmun, did not grant women full abortion rights but said that states could only ban abortion at the point where the fetus was viable outside of the womb. The decision struck down widespread federal and state laws banning reproductive rights and ushered in federal protections of those rights, until Friday’s ruling. Now a woman’s right to an abortion will be decided by individual states.
What does the Supreme Court’s ruling mean for Georgia?
In May 2019, Gov. Brian Kemp signed a law that prohibits Georgia physicians from performing abortions beyond six weeks, except in special circumstances. A federal judge blocked that law in 2020, ruling it was unconstitutional because it violated the 14th Amendment’s right to privacy. The state appealed, and the case is pending at the 11th Circuit.
When could Georgia’s six-week abortion ban take effect?
It’s unclear right now. Enacting the law could “happen in a matter of days,” Anthony Michael Kreis, a constitutional law expert at Georgia State University, told 11Alive news.
A spokesperson for the 11th Circuit, where Georgia’s anti-abortion law is stalled, declined to comment on the court’s schedule to Axios.
The Washington Post said Georgia is among seven states that could effectively ban abortion within weeks or months. The ban on abortion at six weeks is essentially a ban on abortion altogether because many women don’t even know they are pregnant until six weeks.
What happens if I’m six weeks pregnant and considering an abortion in Georgia?
“Certainly the Southeast will be very deeply affected by the ruling,” Jackson said. “We would encourage people who are not sure of their gestation to come to a clinic to have an ultrasound and confirmation of pregnancy. From that point, we can determine where else there may be services available.”
What impact will this have on the midterm elections?
“This could be decisive in very competitive states like Georgia,” Bullock said. “It’s giving Democrats an issue they can run on, where most of the public agrees with them.” Other political observers say Republicans may try to deflect the issue by focusing on inflation and high gas prices.
How do Georgians generally feel about abortion rights?
Nearly seven in 10 Georgia voters opposed overturning Roe v Wade, according to a January poll from the University of Georgia’s School of Public and International Affairs. Politically, 90% of Democrats, 77% of independents and 43% of Republicans were opposed. Over half –, 53%,–said they strongly or somewhat opposed the Georgia law that would ban abortions at six weeks.
What do lawmakers have to say about the SCOTUS decision?
“It’s a sad day for the court and the country. The only way to protect a woman’s right to choose is for Congress to restore Roe v. Wade.”
– President Biden
“American women today have less freedom than their mothers. It’s a slap in the face to women.”
-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi
“This is a historic victory for countless unborn lives.”
-Gov. Brian Kemp
“I am appalled. Enraged. Undaunted and ready to fight back. Our freedom matters. Our rights matter. We will not be still.”
-Stacey Abrams, Kemp’s Democratic gubernatorial challenger
“I’m outraged by the Supreme Court’s decision. As a pro-choice pastor, I’ll never back down from this fight. Women must be able to make their own health care decisions, not politicians.”
-Sen. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church, Atlanta
“As a Georgian and a mother, I am most concerned with the impact this decision will have on the women and girls in this state. The basic right of having control over one’s body will now wholly depend on the actions of leaders we elect at the state level.”
-Democratic Georgia Attorney General candidate and State Sen. Jen Jordan
Read SCOTUS opinion here.