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'Life is winning': Georgia Supreme Court rejects lower court claim that 'heartbeat' law was invalid; keeps pro-life law in force
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'Life is winning': Georgia Supreme Court rejects lower court claim that 'heartbeat' law was invalid; keeps pro-life law in force

Activists keen to ensure that babies can be legally exterminated in Georgia following the detection of their heartbeats were dealt a major blow Tuesday morning. The state's Supreme Court rejected a lower court's ruling that the Living Infants and Fairness Equality (LIFE) Act was invalid, having been passed prior to the U.S. Supreme Court's Dobbs ruling.

The law will remain in force, at least until that time the Fulton County Superior Court reaches its next conclusion.

What's the background?

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp ratified the LIFE Act in May 2019, prohibiting abortions "if an unborn child has been determined ... to have a detectable human heartbeat," except in cases of rape and incest with a police report and cases when the mother's health is at risk.

This prompted backlash from various leftist groups and companies, including Disney and Netflix, as well as boycott threats from other radical pro-abortion organizations.

Before the law could take effect in January 2020, the American Civil Liberties Union, the ACLU of Georgia, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Planned Parenthood filed a lawsuit, seeking to block it. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia blocked the LIFE Act in October 2019 and granted a permanent injunction against the law in July 2020.

Georgia subsequently filed an appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. The appeals court put the case on hold pending the ruling in Dobbs.

In July 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit said the law could take effect, noting Dobbs "makes clear that no right to abortion exists under the Constitution, so Georgia may prohibit them."

Pro-abortion groups weren't willing to let the unborn off that easily. They successfully sued Georgia in state court.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney concluded in late 2022 that "Sections 4 and 11 of the LIFE Act were plainly unconstitutional when drafted, voted upon, and enacted. They are therefore ab initio and of no effect," thereby striking down the post-heartbeat ban on abortion in the state.

McBurney did not rule on the merits of the other arguments given in the lawsuit against the pro-life law.

The State Attorney General's Office filed an appeal with the Supreme Court of Georgia, which reinstated the law until a decision could be made.

A supreme upset

The Georgia Supreme Court indicated in a 6-1 ruling Tuesday that its concern lay solely with the Fulton County Superior Court's conclusion that certain provisions of the LIFE Act were "null from the beginning" because it was enacted in 2019, prior to the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade.

The court noted that McBurney's "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. 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."

The Georgia Supreme Court found that both propositions "conflict with well-established, foundational principles of law that are essential to our system of government."

"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," wrote Justice Verda Colvin.

The case has been remanded back to the Fulton County Superior Court, where the incompatibility-with- Roe argument has been taken off the table.

First reactions

Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, celebrated this decision, stating, "Today's Georgia Supreme Court decision ensures that tens of thousands of children with beating hearts will continue to be protected from brutal abortions. It is the latest vindication of the will of Georgians, who have compassion for both babies and mothers, along with lawmakers like Governor Kemp and many others who heard them and acted."

"We congratulate Governor Kemp, Attorney General Carr, all our local allies, and the people of Georgia on a long and well-fought battle. Life is winning in hearts and minds nationwide. When you lead and stand boldly for life, Americans will stand with you," added Dannenfelser.

Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, said, "Today’s devastating decision means that our people will continue to face the horrible reality that they are in today where Georgians are suffering because they cannot access abortion care. This abortion ban has forced Georgians to travel across state lines at great expense or continue the life-altering consequences of pregnancy and childbirth against their wills."

Simpson further claimed that Georgia's prohibition on killing babies of any color "is steeped in white supremacy."

Kwajelyn Jackson, the head of another radical pro-abortion plaintiff in the case, claimed that "this law is putting people's lives at risk."

A spokeswoman for the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project vowed to continue fighting the democratic will of the people, stressing, "A law that forces the immense pains, risks, and life-altering consequences of pregnancy on Georgians against their will is a clear violation of Georgians’ state constitutional rights, and we’ll keep doing everything in our power to block this cruel law for good."

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