Lawsuit attempts to block new abortion law

The Georgia branch of the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Friday to block the state’s stricter abortion law from taking effect Jan. 1.

The law prohibits abortions after 20 weeks with exceptions for specific threats to the mother’s health. But the lawsuit contends the exceptions are narrow and “doctors treating women in accordance to the best medical judgment” could face prison.

Anti-abortion forces welcomed the lawsuit because they said it will help their efforts to reverse the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal across the land.

“We would welcome a (court) challenge simply because this provides the opportunity to place additional restrictions on abortion. It would be a challenge to Roe v. Wade,” said Dan Becker, president of Georgia Right to Life.

The lawsuit — along with a motion for an injunction to stop the law from taking effect until the case is heard — was filed on behalf of three doctors. The suit, filed in Fulton County Superior Court, says doctors would have to make “an untenable choice: to face criminal prosecution and up to 10 years imprisonment, as well as disciplinary and licensing sanctions” for providing the care their patients seek.

The law, passed on the final day of last year’s legislative session, includes a few exceptions for an abortion past 20 weeks — the mother could die, she would suffer an “irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function” or the fetus has a congenital or chromosomal anomaly that means almost certain death after birth.

Debbie Seagraves, executive director of ACLU Georgia, said the law was being challenged as a violation of the state’s privacy protections spelled out in the Georgia Constitution.

“It’s unconstitutional on its face,” Seagraves said. “It sets a pre-viability date that’s an arbitrary date. There’s no reason for it. It requires a doctor to make a judgment call that may or may not be in the best interest of their patient.”

The suit says the new law “contains no exception for a woman pregnant as a result of rape or incest; for a woman who faces medical harm from a condition outside the statutory definition of ‘medical emergency’; or for a woman whose fetus has severe anomalies that fall outside the statutory definition of ‘medically futile pregnancy.’”

Georgia’s law has language with “fetal pain” restrictions that are also in statutes in six other states — Nebraska, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Oklahoma and Alabama. A seventh state, North Carolina, restricts abortion at 20 weeks.

Backers of Georgia’s law said a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, therefore the state has an interest in protecting it.

None of the laws in the other states has been successfully challenged in the courts.

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