It was the latest lawsuit in a campaign to push back on recent abortion bans introduced across the U.S. The ACLU and Planned Parenthood sued Arkansas on Wednesday for its 18-week abortion ban.
The Georgia bill bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, purportedly once a fetal “heartbeat” is detectable by doctors, with the exceptions for rape and incest and if the patient is at risk of death or severe harm. It will begin to take effect on Jan. 1, 2020. People who perform abortions could face up to 10 years in prison.
The ban is “in particular an attack on low-income Georgians, Georgians of color, and rural Georgians, who are least able to access medical care and least able to overcome the cruelties of this law,” the groups argue in the lawsuit, which names numerous defendants, including Kemp and Attorney General Christopher Carr (R).
The groups filed the suit on behalf of women’s health organizations and clinics, including SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, Feminist Women’s Health Center, Planned Parenthood Southeast, Atlanta Comprehensive Wellness Clinic and others, representing the organizations themselves, their physicians and staff, and their patients. They filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division.
The plaintiffs argued the “vague language” in the bill is dangerous for clinicians, who could potentially face prosecution for medical care they provide to pregnant patients with possible risk to an embryo.
“The threat of criminal liability is likely to have a chilling effect on health care providers across Georgia, shaping provider and patient decisions about a wide range of health conditions and restricting treatment options for people who are pregnant or perceived to be capable of pregnancy,” the complaint reads.
Many doctors argue that the term “heartbeat bill” is inaccurate. Using the term heartbeat for the “arbitrary” ban at six weeks does “not reflect medical accuracy or clinical understanding,” Dr. Ted Anderson, the president of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists told the Guardian.
The new law could risk the lives of women, opponents argue. According to the suit, the bill puts pregnant Georgia residents at an increased risk of injury or death due to a miscarriage.
“SisterSong is bringing this lawsuit to protect maternal health and reproductive rights so that every person – especially persons of color – can thrive in their families and communities, as well as maintain their human right to make their own decisions about their reproductive lives,” Monica Simpson, the executive director of SisterSong, a nonprofit organization based in Georgia that advocates for reproductive rights for marginalized communities, said in a statement.
During his campaign for governor, Kemp sold himself as “unapologetically pro-life” and expressed support for a heartbeat bill.
His office declined to comment on the suit. The attorney general’s office said it could not comment on pending litigation.
Georgia is facing scrutiny for its law and pressure to overturn the measure. On Wednesday, former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams (D) warned of an “exodus” from Georgia of entertainment and technology companies.
“You are going to have a hard time as a tech company or an entertainment company justifying putting your staff in a place where they cannot get (health) access unless they fly to another place,” Abrams said at a Kaiser Family Foundation forum, according to USA Today.
This spring, the day before the bill was passed in late March, dozens of celebrities ― including Don Cheadle, Rosie O’Donnell and Amy Schumer ― encouraged television and film companies to leave Georgia if the measure was codified.
Georgia joined numerous other states in signing a heartbeat bill, including Alabama, Louisiana, Missouri and Ohio, which the ACLU of Ohio and Planned Parenthood sued in May. Georgia was the fourth to pass such a measure.
Sean J. Young, legal director of the ACLU of Georgia, called the bill “blatantly unconstitutional” in a statement. “Politicians should never second guess women’s health care decisions,” he said.