Atlanta Mayor Dickens ‘sickened’ by Roe decision; area DAs vow not to prosecute

Gov. Kemp calls ruling “historic victory for life”

Correction: In an earlier version of this story, an accompanying graphic incorrectly stated Clayton DA Tasha Mosley would not prosecute abortion law violators. Mosley has not responded about her stance on the issue.

Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens said he was “sickened” by the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade while several metro Atlanta district attorneys say they will not prosecute anyone under Georgia’s previously passed “heartbeat” bill.

“The choice to have an abortion is one of the hardest decisions of many women’s lives,” Dickens said in a statement shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision was released Friday. “That choice is informed by a wide variety of factors, and government should not have a role in denying that choice. Make no mistake: this ruling will most grotesquely impact women of color and those who do not have the resources to travel to find safe and high-quality health care outside their communities where reproductive services are made illegal.”

The Atlanta City Council had previously requested Atlanta police make investigating abortions their “lowest possible priority” if Roe v. Wade was overturned. Atlanta City Council President Doug Shipman said Friday he was saddened and disappointed by the decision.

“As a spouse of a physician, father of daughters and a healthcare advocate, I will continue to work to support women in Atlanta and Georgia,” Shipman said via social media.

The Atlanta Police Department is focused “on bringing justice to violent criminals, getting illegal guns and drugs off the streets” and protecting residents and visitors, the department said in a statement. The department said it respects the right to peacefully demonstrate and would monitor activity to make sure any gatherings following the decision remained peaceful.

Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis was among the prosecutors issuing reactions after the decision was announced.

“I will not be using precious tax dollars allocated to this office to pursue prosecutions based on women’s personal healthcare choices,” she said in a statement.

DeKalb County District Attorney Sherry Boston issued a similar statement.

“Across our country, reproductive rights and private healthcare matters are under attack and vulnerable to criminal inspection and prosecution,” she said. “As the elected District Attorney with charging discretion for the Stone Mountain Judicial Circuit (DeKalb County), I am vowing not to prosecute individuals pursuant to HB 481. I believe it is a woman’s right to make decisions regarding her own body and medical care, including, but not limited to, obtaining an abortion.”

House Bill 481, which was signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp in 2019, outlaws most abortions when a doctor can detect fetal cardiac activity, which is typically around six weeks of pregnancy. The law has not gone into effect due to legal challenges. The law has been stalled by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which was awaiting the Supreme Court decision.

The law could now potentially go into effect immediately.

“I believe in the dignity, value and worth of every human being, both born and unborn. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in ‘Dobbs’ is constitutionally correct and rightfully returns the issue of abortion to the states and to the people – where it belongs,” Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr said in a statement Friday afternoon. “We have just filed a notice in the 11th Circuit requesting it reverse the District Court’s decision and allow Georgia’s Heartbeat Law to take effect.”

Kemp called the high court’s ruling a “historic victory for life” and said he looks forward to the impact the ruling will have on Georgia’s abortion law.

“Working closely with the General Assembly, we have made significant strides to stand for life at all stages,” Kemp said in a statement. “We will continue that important work in the days and months to come.”

U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock said he was outraged by the Supreme Court decision and vowed, “as a pro-choice pastor,” to fight for women’s rights.

Fair and Just Prosecution, a nationwide group of elected local prosecutors, released a statement saying prosecutors should not be criminalize abortion, calling it a “mockery of justice.” The group includes from Georgia: Boston, Gwinnett County District Attorney Patsy Austin-Gatson, Chatham County DA Shalena Cook Jones, Augusta Judicial Circuit DA Jared Williams, Macon Judicial Circuit DA David Cooke, Western Judicial Circuit (Athens) DA Deborah Gonzalez and Douglas County DA Dalia Racine.

“As elected prosecutors, ministers of justice and leaders in our communities, we cannot stand by and allow members of our community to live in fear of the ramifications of this deeply troubling decision,” the statement reads. “We stand together in our firm belief that prosecutors have a responsibility to refrain from using limited criminal legal system resources to criminalize personal medical decisions.”

DA Austin-Gatson said she plans to look at each case on a case-by-case basis to determine whether or not to prosecute. DA Gonzalez said she will not be prosecuting abortion cases.

DA Williams said he will not be using resources to prosecute anyone who performs or gets an abortion.

“I fight violent gangs who kill children in the street. I fight abusive parents who put their kids in the hospital. I fight child molesters who prey on our children. Until our community is rid of violent crime and sexual predators, I will not expend our limited resources to prosecute women and their doctors for personal healthcare decisions,” Williams said in a statement.

Due to the technical language of HB 481, district attorneys could potentially seek a murder charge against someone who violates the “heartbeat” law.

But that was not the intent of the law, according to its lead sponsor, Rep. Ed Setzler, R-Acworth. Rather, he said, women, doctors, nurses and pharmacists can be prosecuted under Georgia’s criminal abortion statute, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.

That law bans abortions in Georgia at the first sign of a fetal heartbeat, essentially six weeks into a pregnancy.

Boston, the DeKalb DA, said she is opposed to prosecuting under the law, and said she is worried about the safety of those seeking abortions throughout the state and country.

“Criminalizing abortion undermines public safety and public trust,” she said. “Further, it threatens the lives, health, and well-being of marginalized individuals whose access to safe abortion procedures will be restricted greater than others. We are creating dangerous ‘have’ and ‘have not’ scenarios that operate contrary to the bedrock of public safety.”