Abortion appointments canceled as Georgians react to court ruling

The main entrance of Feminist Women's Health Center in metro Atlanta on Wednesday, June 29, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)



The main entrance of Feminist Women's Health Center in metro Atlanta on Wednesday, June 29, 2022. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Wednesday’s court ruling upholding Georgia’s law severely restricting abortion had been expected for weeks.

That didn’t mean it didn’t elicit strong reactions on both sides of the abortion debate.

“It is causing unnecessary, devastating harm across the state of Georgia,” said Monica Simpson, executive director of Atlanta-based Sister Song, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit that sought to strike down the Georgia law.

Some local clinics Wednesday afternoon canceled upcoming appointments for women seeking abortions. Some clinics vowed to stay open to perform fewer abortions still allowed under the new law, in addition to providing other reproductive health services.

The Georgia Life Alliance, which pushed for the new law, celebrated the court ruling. The organization will focus on supporting pregnant women and advocating to ban mail-order abortion pills, Executive Director Martha Zoller said.

“We’re prepared, as we move forward to implement the heartbeat bill, and have a stronger culture of life here in Georgia,” she said.

Demand for abortions in Georgia surged in recent weeks, after the U.S. Supreme Court in late June overturned constitutional protections for the procedure. Ensuing “trigger” bans closed clinics in Alabama and Mississippi.

Abortion clinics in Georgia will now have to decide their futures — and how best to provide services to patients while not jeopardizing their licenses.

Under Georgia’s new law, most abortions are no longer allowed once a doctor can detect fetal cardiac activity, typically about six weeks into a pregnancy and before many women know they are pregnant. The law allows abortions in cases of rape, incest, if the life of the woman is in danger or in instances of “medical futility,” when a fetus would not be able to survive.

Before Wednesday’s court ruling, Georgia allowed abortions up to 22 weeks into a pregnancy.

“We are adapting our protocols to work in compliance with the newly implemented law and continue to see as many patients as we still can,” said Kwajelyn Jackson, executive director of the Feminist Women’s Health Center, another plaintiff in the lawsuit. “We are calling and disappointing many, many patients with already scheduled appointments who will no longer be able to be seen because of this cruel decision.”

The clinic, in Brookhaven, was prepared to lose in court, lobbyist Megan Gordon said. Dozens of appointments have been canceled, including some for Thursday and some from out of state, she said.

“We’re already used to patients who come in and turn out to be too far along,” she said. “It’s just we’re going to have a lot more of them now, and so we will have to turn patients away. We’re an abortion clinic in Georgia. We’re never going to do anything to put our licensure in jeopardy.”

Many people have called the clinic saying they recently had sex and don’t have a positive pregnancy test but want to schedule a medical abortion “just in case,” Gordon said.

Doctors are paralyzed by confusion by the court’s ruling, said Dr. Cary Perry, president of the Georgia Obstetrical and Gynecological Society.

“People are in a state of grayness. People don’t know how to make a move,” Perry said.

Doctors use similar or identical surgical methods and medication to treat pregnant women who have natural miscarriages or whose health is in danger as they do for women seeking abortions. That means authorities could accuse doctors of breaking the law in cases where doctors say they were simply caring for a woman’s health.

Lauren Frazier, director of communications at Planned Parenthood Southeast, said the organization will still be providing abortions up to six weeks as allowed under the new law.

“We absolutely have no plans to close any clinics, we will still be open to serving patients and providing all the vital reproductive health care services that we’ve always offered, including abortion,” she said.

What’s more, she said if a person is past that six-week mark, they will help patients get to another state for abortion services. Among Georgia’s neighbors, North Carolina and Florida have less-restrictive laws.

“We will help navigate those folks to access states where they can get care,” Frazier said. “We can support them with everything from financial resources to cover hotels, meals, travel, assist them with child care for the children that they already have, whatever it is they need to feel supported in this moment.”

Cole Muzio, president of Frontline Policy Action, a Christian organization that lobbied hard for the “heartbeat” law, said Wednesday was the culmination of decades of work.

“When we pushed for the heartbeat bill, we knew that we were doing something bold and something difficult,” he said. “Now with the (Supreme Court’s June) Dobbs decision and the ruling today, to see Georgia in a position to save thousands of lives, is very exciting. But we also understand that it is just the beginning of the battle.”

Muzio said their focus will be on re-electing Gov Brian Kemp, and after that, making sure more work is done legislatively to make sure the abortion law is being enforced. Pregnancy resource centers will also need support, he said, and adoption and foster care must be more accessible and affordable.

“We have a lot of work to do in our culture to continue to advance the pro life movement. This is not the end. It is the beginning of what we have worked for,” he said.

Dr. Mimi Zieman, an obstetrician and gynecologist and vice president of advocacy for the Atlanta section of the National Council of Jewish Women, called the ruling “an affront to our religious liberty.”

“I’m shocked at the lengths the courts have gone to restrict people’s access to basic health care, ignoring how unethical these restrictions are, in the name of a religious minority who views embryos as people,” Zieman said.

The Rev. Wayne Woods, transitional pastor at Altamaha Baptist Church in Jesup, called abortion a “tragedy.”

“There is yet a lot of work ahead of us to reach a place where abortion becomes the unacceptable choice, that every life deserves better than that,” he said. ”But it is work that has to be done, and work that is best done by the people themselves rather than the dictates of the federal government.”

Kemp told reporters Wednesday that he was “overjoyed” by the court’s ruling. He said health care providers are ready to give mothers “the resources they need to be safe, healthy and informed.”

A spokesman for Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said the mayor “is monitoring the situation as the City explores any potential local action within its authority.”

Reporter Kelly Yamanouchi contributed to this article.