June 28, 2019 / 1:57 PM / 25 days ago

U.S. rights groups, doctors sue to stop Georgia 'heartbeat' abortion ban

(Reuters) - A group of civil rights organizations, doctors and clinics sued Georgia’s government on Friday to overturn a law passed in March that bans abortions if an embryonic or fetal heartbeat can be detected.

FILE PHOTO: Abortion-rights campaigners attend a rally against new restrictions on abortion passed by legislatures in eight states including Alabama and Georgia, in New York City, U.S., May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

The law, which was passed by Republicans, will make abortion possible only in the first few weeks of a pregnancy absent a medical emergency, in many cases before a woman even realizes she is pregnant. It is due to take effect in January.

“This law is an affront to the dignity and health of Georgians,” the lawsuit, which was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of the plaintiffs, said. It said that Georgians, particularly black Georgians, already die from pregnancy-related causes at a higher rate than in most other U.S. states.

At least four other Republican-led states this year passed laws dramatically limiting abortion. The laws are in conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which found that women have a constitutional right to abort a pregnancy.

Some religious conservatives hope the passage of such laws will force the Supreme Court, in which conservative-leaning justices hold the majority, to revisit and even overturn the Roe v. Wade decision. Until the new law takes effect, Georgians are allowed to get an abortion until about the 20th week of pregnancy, with narrow exceptions.

The lawsuit names Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, Georgia Attorney General Christopher Carr, and other state government and medical officials as defendants. The lawsuit asks a judge to block the law from being enforced.

A spokeswoman for Carr, Katie Byrd, said by email that her office could not comment on pending litigation. A spokesman for Kemp did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A doctor who performs an abortion after an embryonic or fetal heartbeat is detected could be imprisoned for up to 10 years under Georgia’s new law.

Defenders of the law say they believe an embryo or a fetus should be afforded similar rights to those of a baby, often citing religious arguments in their support.

The law’s opponents say denying women abortions has already been deemed unconstitutional, and note that abortion restrictions force some women to turn to riskier means to end a pregnancy, which can sometimes be deadly.

Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely; Editing by Susan Thomas and Bill Trott

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