ATLANTA — Georgia physicians, reproductive health care providers, and advocates filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of Fulton County today bringing a state constitutional challenge against H.B. 481, a law banning abortion at approximately six weeks of pregnancy — just two weeks after a person’s first missed period and before many people even know they are pregnant. This lawsuit comes one week after a federal appeals court allowed Georgia’s six-week ban to take effect for the first time since it was passed in 2019, causing an immediate, devastating crisis as clinics were forced to turn away patients in waiting rooms across the state and to cancel many upcoming appointments.
Georgia’s six-week ban was enjoined by a federal district court shortly after Gov. Brian Kemp signed it into law in 2019, and the law had remained blocked as the case made its way through the courts. However, three weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision rescinding a half-century of federal constitutional protection for the right to abortion, the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the district court’s injunction. The federal appeals court also took a highly unorthodox action of putting the six-week ban into effect immediately, with no warning to health care providers and patients across the state despite the fact that this law criminalizes medicine, rather than waiting the standard 28-day period.
The state court challenge filed today asserts that (1) H.B. 481 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. Doctors and advocates are asking the state court to immediately block the law while the lawsuit proceeds in the courts.
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.
Below are statements from plaintiffs and litigators:
“SisterSong and our partners have been in the fight against Georgia’s six-week abortion ban from the beginning, and today we are sending a clear message that we’re not giving up,” said Monica Simpson, Executive Director of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, the lead plaintiff in the case. “This extreme ban rooted in white supremacy will hurt so many and will disproportionately hurt Black women—who in Georgia are more than twice as likely as white women to die from pregnancy complications. We are committed to our vision for reproductive justice for Georgians, in which everyone including Queer, trans and low-income people all have the freedom to decide to have children, to not have children, and to raise the families they have in thriving communities.”
“Gov. Kemp says he is ‘overjoyed’ to enforce a devastating six-week abortion ban that will force countless Georgia residents to go through 34 weeks of pregnancy and hours or days of labor and delivery against their will,” said Julia Kaye, staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project. “It’s horrific that he is celebrating a law that will be deadly for women and others who needs abortion care in Georgia – a state already facing a maternal mortality crisis, especially among Black women. When Kemp’s abortion ban suddenly took effect last week and patients across the state had their medical appointments canceled, they were understandably distraught – now forced to travel thousands of miles out of state for care, or else have their health and their futures upended by government-mandated pregnancy and childbirth. Georgia’s state constitution clearly prohibits Kemp’s extreme political interference with Georgians’ bodies, health, and lives, and we are fighting with every tool at our disposal to ensure everyone has the power to access the essential health care they need.”
“This abortion ban sends the disturbing message that Georgia is closed to women seeking equal opportunity and basic rights to make private decisions about their future,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia. “Georgia’s economic growth was built on the Atlanta business community’s commitment to diversity and tolerance and this extreme law will have a chilling effect on that growth.”
“Planned Parenthood has vowed to do everything in our power to protect abortion access for our patients, and today we continue that fight with our partners in Georgia,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Since the Supreme Court plunged this country into a national health care crisis, people in states like Georgia have suffered the devastating consequences of anti-abortion lawmakers’ refusal to prioritize the health and wellbeing of their constituents over their own extreme political agendas. With today’s state court challenge, we are once again seeking to block this harmful law that denies Georgians the power to make their own personal medical decisions in a state with dangerously high maternal mortality rates. Together with our partners, we will continue to fight state by state, law by law, to restore and protect access to abortion, which is essential, life-saving health care.”
“It is unfathomable that Georgians and people all over the country are losing the right to control their own bodies, their own futures, and their own medical decisions,” said Dr. Evelyn Reynolds, Chair of the Planned Parenthood Southeast Board of Directors. “Georgia already has a severe physician shortage, not to mention some of the worst health outcomes in the nation — particularly for communities of color and people with low incomes. H.B. 481 is not only irresponsible, it’s flat out dangerous. Without relief, millions will be forced to flee the state, carry an unintended or dangerous pregnancy against their will, or seek support outside of the health care system. This law intrudes on the deeply personal and complex conversations that happen between a doctor and patient — we cannot and we will not let this stand.”
“For nearly 50 years, our clinic has provided our community with essential reproductive health care, including abortions,” said Kwajelyn Jackson, executive director of Feminist Women’s Health Center. “Then, overnight, we were forced to turn many of our patients away due to this cruel abortion ban. We won't back down, and we will keep fighting until we can provide our patients with all of the care they need once more.”
“Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last month, a domino effect of bans has decimated abortion access in the south and across the country,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “In Georgia, abortion providers were forced to cancel appointments overnight following the appellate court ruling that allowed this abortion ban to take effect immediately, throwing patients into a state of panic and confusion. With this new lawsuit, we're fighting for them and the countless others who need access to time-sensitive, essential health care.”
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 lawsuit can be found online here: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/sistersong-v-georgia-complaint