published Monday, December 24th, 2012

Georgia judge temporarily blocks abortion law

ATLANTA — A state judge has temporarily suspended a Georgia law that would ban abortions for women who are more than 20 weeks pregnant.

The General Assembly passed the law earlier this year, and it was set to take effect Jan. 1. Fulton County Superior Court Judge Doris Downs blocked the law in a Friday order as part of a challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.

Downs will rule later on the merits of the ACLU’s challenge.

The law bans doctors from performing abortions five months after an egg is fertilized, except when they decide a fetus has a defect so severe it is unlikely to live. The law also makes an exception to protect the life or health of the mother, though that does not apply to a mother’s mental health.

The ACLU filed suit on behalf of three obstetricians. The organization says the law violates the state’s privacy protections as provided for in the Georgia Constitution.

State attorneys argued to Downs that blocking the law, even temporarily, would go against the will of the Georgia’s elected legislative body. A spokeswoman for Attorney General Sam Olens did not respond immediatelyto a request for comment Monday afternoon.

Similar “fetal pain” laws have passed in six other states, with various challenges filed in state and federal courts. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that states can limit abortions when there is a reasonable chance the fetus could survive outside the womb. That is generally considered to be no earlier than 23 weeks.

Debbie Seagraves, executive director of Georgia ACLU, said the organization opted for a state challenge because “the constitution here has particularly strong protections of privacy.”

Under existing Georgia law, women can seek an abortion for any reason during the first six months of pregnancy. During the final three months, doctors can perform abortions only to protect the life or health of the mother.

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