Judges block six-week abortion bans in Georgia and Tennessee

Federal judges blocked controversial abortion restrictions out of Georgia and Tennessee on Monday, a pair of key victories for abortion rights advocates afte...

Posted: Jul 14, 2020 7:25 AM

Federal judges blocked controversial abortion restrictions out of Georgia and Tennessee on Monday, a pair of key victories for abortion rights advocates after a flurry of so-called "heartbeat bans" swept state legislatures last year.

The bills -- passed in Georgia in spring 2019 and in Tennessee last month -- ban abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which can occur as early as six weeks into pregnancy and before many women even know they're pregnant.

The bills highlight the longstanding battle over abortion rights playing out in state legislatures. That clash most recently made its way up to the Supreme Court, where Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts moved to block a controversial Louisiana law restricting abortion access in siding with the liberal justices -- while potentially leaving the door open to more state abortion limits.

US District Judge Steve Jones of Georgia, who temporarily blocked the law in October, cited Supreme Court decisions Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey that uphold a woman's right to a pre-viability abortion in his decision to permanently strike down the law on Monday.

"In sum, the undisputed material facts in this case lead to one, indisputable conclusion: that Section 4 of H.B. 481, by prohibiting a woman from terminating her pregnancy upon the detection of a fetal heartbeat, constitutes a pre-viability abortion ban," Jones wrote.

He added, "As this ban directly conflicts with binding Supreme Court precedent (i.e., the core holdings in Roe, Casey, and their progeny) and thereby infringes upon a woman's constitutional right to obtain an abortion prior to viability, the Court is left with no other choice but to declare it unconstitutional."

CNN has reached out to the office of Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, who was named in the lawsuit, for comment.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights, representing several abortion care providers, challenged the law in June 2019. Monica Simpson -- executive director of the abortion care provider SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, the top plaintiff in the lawsuit -- called the decision "tremendous."

"No one should have to live in a world where their body and reproductive decision-making is controlled by the state," she said in a statement. "And we will continue to work to make sure that is never a reality in Georgia or anywhere else."

In Tennessee, a federal judge temporarily blocked the state's heartbeat bill from going into effect after Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, signed it into law earlier that day. The ACLU, the Center for Reproductive Rights, Planned Parenthood and several Tennessee abortion providers had challenged the bill in federal court last month on the same day that state lawmakers passed it, filing suit against Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery and other state officials.

"The Act will immediately impact patients seeking abortions and imposes criminal sanctions on abortion providers," US District Judge William Campbell wrote of the law, citing "the time-sensitive nature of the procedure."

Campbell added that the abortion rights groups "have demonstrated a strong or substantial likelihood of success on the merits of their claims that the restrictions (in the law) are unconstitutional under current law."

CNN has reached out to Lee's office for comment.

Samantha Fisher, a spokeswoman for Slatery, said in a statement, "The Court issued a temporary restraining order to maintain the status quo. We look forward to the next step, arguing the merits in a preliminary injunction hearing."

Tennessee had joined not only Georgia but Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio in passing similar bills. All have been kept from going into effect by court actions.

Tennessee's bill made exceptions to protect the life of the woman but not for instances of rape or incest. Georgia's had some exceptions for situations of medical futility or where the mother's health is at risk as well as in cases of rape or incest before the 20-week mark, if an official police report has been filed.

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