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Federal judge throws out Georgia's abortion law
Abortion bill
Protesters opposed to an anti-abortion bill fill the hallway on Monday, March 18, 2019, in Atlanta. - photo by Associated Press

ATLANTA — A federal judge on Monday struck down Georgia's anti-abortion law approved by the General Assembly last year, calling it unconstitutional.

District Judge Steve C. Jones wrote in his ruling that the law — which would have outlawed most abortions once a doctor can detect fetal cardiac activity, or around six weeks of pregnancy — violated a woman's constitutional right to access to the procedure as established by the 1973 Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade.

"It is in the public interest, and is this court's duty, to ensure constitutional rights are protected," Jones wrote.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia sued the state on behalf of abortion advocates and providers. They argued that the law signed by Gov. Brian Kemp last year was unconstitutional.

Jones agreed, writing that "the constitutional liberty of the woman to have some freedom to terminate her pregnancy" is inhibited by the law.

Under current Georgia law, passed by the Legislature in 2012, abortions are allowed through 20 weeks of gestation, or about 22 weeks of pregnancy.

As a result of his ruling, Jones wrote, "the state of Georgia's abortion laws that were in effect prior to the passage of H.B. 481 remain in effect."

A spokeswoman for the Georgia Attorney General's office said it was reviewing the order and did not have any comment, though the state is expected to appeal the decision.

Jones in October had temporarily blocked the law from going into effect while the case played out in court. It was set to take effect the first day of this year.

Jones also considered various so-called "personhood" provisions in the legislation, which extend legal rights to fertilized eggs.

The ACLU argued that the "personhood" components of the law were vague and made it difficult for its clients — abortion providers — to know when they are in violation.

The "personhood" language in the law would allow parents, once a fetal heartbeat is detected, to claim an embryo on their taxes as a dependent, and the embryo would be counted toward the state's population. Under the law, a court could also order a father to pay child support after a heartbeat is detected.

The Georgia ruling comes two weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 4-3 decision, struck down a Louisiana law that required abortion doctors to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals.

Anti-abortion activists had seized upon the opportunity created by last year's appointment of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, tilting the bench in the favor of conservatives.

Last month's decision in the Louisiana case was a blow to anti-abortion activists, but supporters of Georgia's law have said they believe it is the one that will overturn Roe v. Wade.

In Georgia, later abortions would still have been allowed in cases of rape, incest, if the life of the woman is in danger or in instances of "medical futility," when a fetus would not be able to survive after birth. To obtain an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy because of rape or incest, a woman would have had to first file a police report.

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