ATLANTA — The Georgia Supreme Court heard oral arguments today in SisterSong v. State of Georgia, a case challenging H.B. 481 — a ban on abortion after approximately six weeks of pregnancy. During the proceedings, advocates argued that the ban is void under a provision of the Georgia Constitution that prohibits the enactment of a law that violated either the state or U.S. Constitution at the time of its passage. When the six-week ban was passed in 2019, it was blatantly unconstitutional under almost five decades of federal precedent.
Within days of a state trial court blocking the law in November, allowing Georgians to again access abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, the Georgia Supreme Court allowed the ban to take effect once again pending the state’s appeal. The Supreme Court will now consider whether to apply more than a century of Georgia Supreme Court precedent dictating that laws like the six-week ban are void from inception and can never be enforced. Since taking effect in July 2022 following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe, the six-week ban has forced countless Georgians to flee the state for essential, time-sensitive health care or to continue their pregnancies and go through childbirth against their will.
Statement from Monica Simpson, executive director, SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective:
“Georgians have experienced months of devastation and distress from a six week abortion ban that should have never gone into effect in the first place. Every day they are being denied access to health care and being forced to grapple with intersecting impacts, while living in a state with one of the highest maternal mortality rates, and higher even for us as Black women. It is cruel how long the people of Georgia have gone without care while this ban has been tied up in the courts. All restrictions on bodily autonomy, including abortion bans, are rooted in white supremacy. Abortion bans and limits to health care access disproportionately affect low-income, Black, and LGBTQ+ communities who already struggle to navigate a healthcare system not made for them. Georgians deserve Reproductive Justice: the right to decide whether or not to have children and to raise their children in safe, sustainable communities. We will continue to fight for our liberation.”
Statement from Kwajelyn Jackson, executive director of Feminist Women’s Health Center:
“As a healthcare provider rooted in reproductive justice, it is our duty to provide our patients with high quality, compassionate medical services that they need, including abortion care. But for eight months now, this cruel law has been forcing us to turn away so many of our patients who need such essential care. Georgians are being denied the ability to make decisions about their own bodies and lives, and it is wreaking havoc across our communities. We will keep fighting for our patients and their right to access all of the vital reproductive healthcare they need.”
Statement from Julia Kaye, staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project:
“For the better part of a year, Gov. Brian Kemp’s forced-pregnancy agenda has trampled on Georgians’ rights and dignity and denied countless people – with wanted and unwanted pregnancies alike – access to the urgent health care they need. On top of the devastating effect this ban is having on Georgians’ bodies, rights, and lives, its enforcement flies in the face of more than a century of clear-cut Georgia constitutional precedent. The trial court correctly found that the Georgia Constitution’s uniquely strong protections against legislative overreach – which Georgia voters have repeatedly ratified across multiple versions of the state constitution – prohibit enforcement of a law that violated either the state or federal constitution as of the moment of its passage, which this six-week abortion ban plainly did when it became law in 2019. When this ban was enacted in 2019, it was a cowardly way for extremist legislators to try to score abstract political points, all while knowing that the courts would quickly prevent the law from taking effect, which they did. If Georgia politicians want to try to enforce an abortion ban now that Roe no longer stands in the way, they need to take that vote now, in the sharp glare of public attention, and face the consequences.”
Statement from Andrea Young, Executive Director, ACLU of Georgia:
“We are fighting for all Georgians to be able to live with reproductive freedom and with all the freedoms guaranteed in our Constitution. We have seen how, with one law, the state legislature can and has rolled us back to the days of Jim Crow, when white men made sweeping decisions that controlled other people’s bodies. A relatively small group of people–in the case of HB 481, made up primarily of men–should not have the power to make personal decisions for other people, in this instance women, disproportionately Black women. We hope the Court’s decision will return us to a place where all Georgians can decide when, whether, and with whom to start or grow their families, and to a place where all people are able to receive the health care they need.”
Statement from Stephanie Fraim, Interim President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast:
“Politicians should not be controlling what options are available to doctors and their patients based on their own personal ideologies. Pregnant people and their families deserve compassion and sound medical advice from physicians they trust. All pregnant people should have the freedom to make this deeply personal decision for themselves.”
Statement from Alexis McGill Johnson, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America:
“Under Georgia’s abortion ban, pregnant people are denied the freedom to decide what is best for their health and for that of their families and communities. For Black Georgians especially, forced pregnancy can be deadly. It is far past time for the courts to listen to the needs of Georgians. Every day this ban remains in effect is another day putting pregnant Georgians lives at risk – their futures are on the line. Restoring access to abortion cannot wait.”
Statement from Alice Wang, Staff Attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“Extreme abortion bans have unleashed a public health crisis across the country. In Georgia, this six-week ban has devastated communities that have already long been grappling with unconscionable maternal mortality rates. State officials should be stepping up to protect their residents instead of trying to revive a cruel law that violates the Georgia Constitution and puts Georgians’ health in jeopardy. We won’t stop fighting until full reproductive autonomy is secured for all Georgians.”
The state court challenge — filed on July 26, just days after a federal appeals court allowed Georgia’s six-week ban to take effect for the first time since it was signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp in 2019 — asserts that (1) the Georgia Constitution’s especially strong protection for the fundamental right to privacy prohibits political interference with an individual’s deeply personal and medically consequential decision whether to continue or terminate a pregnancy; and (2) Georgia’s six-week ban was void from the start under the Georgia Constitution because it clearly violated federal constitutional precedent when enacted in 2019.
The trial court granted that abortion providers’ and advocates’ request to block the law on November 15, 2022, ruling that Georgia’s abortion ban was void from the start, but not yet weighing in on the other state constitutional claims. One week later, the Georgia Supreme Court stayed the trial court order and scheduled oral arguments to hear the State’s appeal of the lower court’s ruling.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.
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