Georgia Supreme Court Upholds Heartbeat Law
The Peach State’s highest court is upholding a pro-life law. In a six-to-one ruling on Tuesday, the Georgia State Supreme Court determined that a 2019 heartbeat law could go into effect, outlawing abortions past six weeks.
The Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act was passed by the state legislature in April 2019 and signed into law by Governor Brian Kemp (R) that same year. Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued the state almost immediately, demanding the law be blocked.
U.S. District Court judge Steven Jones granted a temporary injunction to block the bill and ruled it unconstitutional in July of 2020. The case was appealed to the Eleventh Circuit Court, which determined the law could go into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade in last year’s Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.
In July of last year, Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and pro-abortion activist group SisterSong sued against the law in state court, namely the Superior Court of Fulton County in Atlanta. In November 2022, the law was considered void ab initio (from the beginning), with abortion advocates arguing it was unconstitutional when signed into law in 2019 since Roe v. Wade was still on the books at that time. The state Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday, “The holdings of United States Supreme Court cases interpreting the United States Constitution that have since been overruled cannot establish that a law was unconstitutional when enacted and therefore cannot render a law void ab initio. Because the trial court reached the opposite conclusion, we reverse its ruling…”
Joseph Backholm, a lawyer and the senior fellow for Biblical Worldview at Family Research Council, told The Washington Stand: “The result is obviously good from a pro-life perspective, because it means many more babies will avoid being aborted — but it’s also good from a legal perspective. The abortion industry in this case was making a desperate argument that the heartbeat bill is illegal because it was passed before Roe v. Wade had been overturned. Essentially,” he explained, “they wanted the court to go back in time and apply the bad and subsequently overturned reasoning of Roe to a current law. Asking the court to apply bad law just because you like the outcome it would reach is a novel approach, but no one should be surprised the argument failed to carry the day.”
Tuesday’s ruling, penned by Justice Verda Colvin, explained that “the State argue[d] that the trial court erred in relying on overruled decisions of the United States Supreme Court (Roe and Casey) to conclude that portions of the LIFE Act violated the United States Constitution when enacted and were therefore void ab initio. We agree.” The ruling continued to state that the Superior Court of Fulton County’s previous “incorrect conclusion rests on a faulty premise — that, in Dobbs, the United States Supreme Court changed not only its interpretation of the United States Constitution but also the meaning of the Constitution itself.”
Colvin further clarified in her ruling, “This could be true, however, only if (1) the United States Supreme Court, as opposed to the United States Constitution, is the source of the Constitution’s meaning or (2) the United States Supreme Court has the power not only to interpret the Constitution but also to amend it. … [B]oth of these propositions conflict with well-established, foundational principles of law that are essential to our system of government.”
The ruling concluded:
“Thus, the United States Constitution means today what it meant when the LIFE Act was enacted in 2019, even if the United States Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Constitution has changed. As a result, the trial court erred in concluding that, even though the LIFE Act complies with the United States Constitution today, the LIFE Act violated the United States Constitution when the LIFE Act was enacted. And… because it is settled under Georgia law that Georgia courts are bound to apply now-controlling United States Supreme Court precedent on the meaning of the United States Constitution, we conclude that the trial court erred in relying on since-overruled United States Supreme Court decisions interpreting the United States Constitution when determining that the LIFE Act was void ab initio.”
According to state health department statistics, abortions in Georgia have been nearly halved since the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling allowed the LIFE Act to go into effect, dropping from about 4,000 per month to less than 2,200 per month. The LIFE Act also allows parents to claim unborn babies as dependents on their taxes.
Democrats are campaigning on abortion ahead of the 2024 elections, especially in Republican-led states like Georgia. Biden-Harris 2024 campaign manager Julie Chavez Rodriguez issued a statement Tuesday addressing the Georgia court’s ruling, writing, “As MAGA Republicans running for president champion a national abortion ban, the stakes couldn’t be higher: This election could determine whether every woman in America faces the same terrifying reality Georgians will now face.”
The Georgia Supreme Court has remanded the case back to the trial court level for consideration of other legal arguments the Supreme Court did not address.
S.A. McCarthy serves as a news writer at The Washington Stand.