ATLANTA — The Georgia Supreme Court granted an emergency stay of a lower court’s injunction today, allowing a six-week abortion ban to take effect once again while the state’s appeal continues. The ban – which had been blocked just one week ago – prohibits abortions from the earliest weeks of pregnancy, when many don’t yet know they are pregnant. The court also denied abortion providers’ request for 24 hours notice before reinstating the ban. Today, patients in waiting rooms are being turned away and forced to seek health care elsewhere or else carry pregnancies to term against their will.
The Supreme Court’s order did not contain any explanation for granting the state’s request to stay the trial court’s Nov. 15 order striking down the six-week ban. As superior court judge Robert McBurney explained in his decision, under the Georgia Constitution, laws that violate either the Georgia or U.S. Constitution when they are passed are forever void. When Gov. Brian Kemp signed this six-week ban into law in the spring of 2019, Roe v. Wade was the law of the land. Under more than a century of Georgia Supreme Court precedent, a subsequent change in the constitutional landscape cannot revive a law that was void from inception. Instead, if the legislature wishes to ban abortion, it must pass a new law “in the sharp glare of public attention that will undoubtedly and properly attend such an important and consequential debate,” Judge McBurney wrote in his order. But today’s Supreme Court order lets the ban go back into effect while the appeal continues, without giving Georgia voters, through their elected representatives, an opportunity to weigh in.
Evidence shows that being denied an abortion can have lasting health and financial consequences for people and their families, including elevated health risks during and after pregnancy; and derailed educational, career, and life plans. For some, the consequences of the ban can be deadly. Black Georgians face myriad barriers to accessing reproductive health care, including structural racism within the health care system. As a result, Black women in Georgia experience maternal mortality and pregnancy complications at a rate more than two times that of non-Hispanic white women.
Below are statements from plaintiffs and litigators:
“While disappointing and deeply frustrating, we were not surprised when the Kemp administration filed a petition for an emergency stay following last week’s ruling,” said Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, the lead plaintiff in the case. “The governor and attorney general of Georgia are doubling down to control access to reproductive health care, and while the stay was granted, we will not stop fighting until this ban that is steeped in white supremacy is gone. All Georgians—including Black women and Queer, trans, low-income, and rural people—should have the freedom to decide to have children, to not have children, and to raise the families they have in thriving communities. We remain undeterred from realizing this vision.”
“It is cruel that our patients’ ability to access the reproductive health care they need has been taken away yet again. For the second time this year, we are being forced to turn away those in need of abortion care beyond six weeks of pregnancy,” said Kwajelyn Jackson, executive director of Feminist Women’s Health Center. “This ban has wreaked havoc on Georgians’ lives, and our patients deserve better. We will keep fighting to protect our patients and their health.”
“For now, Gov. Kemp has the green light to again strip away Georgians’ autonomy, prevent doctors from providing medically indicated care for pregnancy complications, and exacerbate Georgia’s maternal mortality and morbidity crisis,” said Julia Kaye, staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project. “Reinstating this extreme abortion ban will cause immense harm, especially to Black Georgians and people with the fewest resources — who are least likely to be able to travel out of state for care and most likely to suffer severe medical consequences from forced pregnancy and childbirth. While this ruling is devastating, the case is not over. We will never stop fighting to ensure that everyone, no matter their geography, race, or income, has the power to control their own bodies and futures.”
“Appropriate reproductive health care had restarted in this state and it will be traumatic for Georgia's women and couples to again lose their right to make personal, private decisions about their lives,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia. “It also now becomes even more important that we protect access in other states by preventing the U.S. Senate from passing a federal ban on abortion.”
“It is unconscionable that the Georgia Supreme Court has chosen to deny pregnant people the ability to decide what is best for their own lives and futures,” said Amy Kennedy, vice president for external affairs of Planned Parenthood Southeast. “Our state’s abortion providers are again being forced to turn away patients who then must leave the state for safe, time-sensitive, and essential health care. We will not let this stand, and Planned Parenthood Southeast and our partners are committed to fighting this ban until access beyond the earliest stages in pregnancy is restored.”
“Let’s be clear: the court’s decision to reinstate Georgia’s abortion ban directly interferes with the people of Georgia’s personal medical decisions,” said Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Pregnant people will be denied their right to self-determination, and to decide what is best for their health and for that of their families. For Black Georgians especially, the denial of essential reproductive health care can be deadly. While we are devastated by today’s decision, we still have fight left in us. Planned Parenthood will stand with our partners across the reproductive health, rights, and justice movement in fighting for abortion access for every person, regardless of where they live or how much money they have.”
“It is outrageous that this extreme law is back in effect, just days after being rightfully blocked,” said Alice Wang, staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights. “This legal ping pong is causing chaos for medical providers trying to do their jobs and for patients who are now left frantically searching for the abortion services they need. Georgians are again being denied control over their own lives and futures, but we will do everything in our power to strike down this ban for good.”
During a trial held in October, health care providers and other experts testified that the abortion ban has had devastating consequences for Georgians’ health and lives. The ban forces Georgians seeking abortion after the earliest weeks of pregnancy to travel hundreds or even thousands of miles out of state for care, and that’s only if they can pull together the resources to do so. Georgians and other people seeking care in states where abortion is still legal face long wait times for appointments. Many of those who cannot surmount the tremendous financial and logistical barriers of getting abortion care in other states are forced to carry their pregnancy to term and give birth against their will.
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 ruling issued today can be found here: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/sistersong-v-state-georgia-georgia-supreme-court-stay-order
An overview of the case can be found online here: https://www.aclu.org/cases/sistersong-v-state-georgia