Chalk up another pro-life victory for the states, this time in Georgia, as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturning Roe v. Wade.
A three-judge panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta this week reversed a lower court that had struck down Georgia’s 2019 law known as the Living Infants Fairness and Equality Act (Act). The Act accomplishes two things:
1) it prohibits abortions (with certain exceptions) once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which usually occurs at about six weeks gestation; and
2) it declares that for legal purposes in Georgia the definition of “natural person” includes “any human being including an unborn child.”
The 11th Circuit’s ruling orders the lower federal court judge to enter judgment in favor of the Georgia law. In a separate order, the 11th Circuit stayed (i.e., removed) the lower court’s injunction, which allows the Georgia law to take effect immediately.
The Act also defines “unborn child” as “a member of the species of Homo sapiens at any stage of development who is carried in the womb.”
The “natural person” portion of the Act has been referred to as Georgia’s “personhood” statute. It amends provisions of the Georgia Code involving child support, tort recovery for fetal homicide, informed consent for women seeking abortions, tax benefits, and related issues.
The law was challenged in 2019 by abortion advocacy groups, providers and practitioners. A U.S. federal district court issued a preliminary injunction blocking the effect of both parts of the Act. The state appealed to the 11th Circuit, and by agreement of the parties, the appeal was put on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court considered the Dobbs case.
On July 20 the 11th Circuit issued its opinion reversing the district court, relying heavily on Dobbs to uphold Georgia’s heartbeat abortion ban. Judge William Pryor, writing for the unanimous panel, summarized the court’s ruling succinctly.
“The district court entered a summary judgment for the abortionists challenging the Georgia law and permanently enjoined state officials from enforcing it,” Pryor wrote. “But intervening Supreme Court precedent, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org., 142 S. Ct. 2228 (2022), makes clear that no right to abortion exists under the Constitution, so Georgia may prohibit them.”
Significantly, the 11th Circuit also repeated an important point from the Dobbs ruling – that all a state needs to legislate restrictions on abortion is some “legitimate interest” for doing so. And, the 11th Circuit noted, again quoting from Dobbs, “respect for and preservation of prenatal life at all stages of development” is a legitimate interest.
The personhood portion of the Act had been challenged in the lower court and blocked for being too vague but, again, the appeals court rejected that portion of the lower court’s decision as well.
“And the expanded definition of natural person is not vague on its face. We vacate the injunction, reverse the judgment in favor of the abortionists, and remand with instructions to enter judgment in favor of the state officials,” the 11th Circuit stated.
“This is an emotional moment, and I am so grateful to each of you for standing with us and for bold leaders like Gov. Brian Kemp, Sen. Renee Unterman, and Rep. Ed Setzler who made this all happen.
“This law is not perfect. Not all lives will be saved. In our culture and at the Capitol, we still have work to do. But I encourage you: REJOICE! This decision will save THOUSANDS of lives immediately.
“The battlefield has changed. Our law now recognizes the personhood of the unborn, protects lives, and it deals a mortal blow to the abortion industry,” Muzio added.
There’s more work to be done, of course, to create a culture of life in America where abortion becomes unthinkable. But the legal and legislative victories we’re currently experiencing in state after state in the cause of saving babies are nothing short of amazing.