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Georgia limits abortion to six weeks and eyes Supreme Court

BMJ 2019; 365 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l1574 (Published 02 April 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;365:l1574
  1. Owen Dyer
  1. Montreal, Canada

The US state of Georgia’s majority Republican legislature has passed a bill outlawing abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, effectively changing the latest point at which a woman can terminate a pregnancy from 20 weeks gestation to about six.

The state’s Republican governor Brian Kemp has praised the bill, called the Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act, and is expected to sign it into law this week.

But the bill’s ultimate target is not in Georgia at all, suggested its leading sponsor, state representative Ed Setzler. Speaking to a gathering of conservative activists in Atlanta, he urged them to support the governor as “he recruits the best legal team in the nation to take this to the highest court in the land.”

Georgia’s bill is one of dozens that have been put forward in a flurry of activity by anti-abortion activists eager to bring a case before the new conservative majority on the US Supreme Court, now that recently appointed Justice Brett Kavanaugh has taken up his seat.

Other bills seek to limit the number of abortion clinics by demanding that they provide hospital standard facilities, such as a Louisiana bill that reached the Supreme Court in February. An Indiana bill passed earlier this year forbade abortions on the grounds of fetal disability, branding them “discrimination abortions,” and this week Indiana banned dilation and evacuation abortions, described in the law as “dismemberment abortions.”

Meanwhile other heartbeat bills are advancing in Florida, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas. Mississippi’s governor signed one into law last week, and others have already passed into law in Iowa, Kentucky, and North Dakota, only to be blocked by lower courts.

But losing in court is part of the plan, suggested Setzler, as this will enable advocates to appeal upwards until they reach the Supreme Court, where they are eager to re-litigate the question of abortion’s constitutionality now that the court has a clear 5-4 conservative majority.

The court is currently considering whether to take up the Indiana law on “discrimination abortions” and another Indiana law mandating burial or cremation of fetuses, both blocked by lower courts.

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