Center For Reproductive Rights

Federal Court Strikes Down Georgia’s 2019 Abortion Ban

District court permanently blocks abortion ban from going into effect in a challenge from reproductive rights and justice activists, abortion providers, and reproductive rights organizations to the state’s 2019 law banning abortion.
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A federal court permanently struck down Georgia’s 2019 six-week abortion ban in SisterSong v. Kemp. It is the second federal ruling today blocking a state abortion ban, coming just hours after a Tennessee ban was blocked.

The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU, the ACLU of Georgia, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America in June 2019, after Georgia was one of nine states last year to pass six-week abortion bans, banning abortion from the earliest weeks of pregnancy, before many even know they are pregnant. In October 2019, the federal district court issued a preliminary injunction blocking the ban from taking effect.

The bill, which passed by two votes, sparked widespread opposition from business leaders, the film and entertainment industry, and activists across all parts of Georgia. Nearly 200 Georgia business leaders spoke out publicly against the ban. The $9 billion Georgia film and entertainment industry published letters, threatening to stop working in Atlanta if the ban was enacted.

The law was in clear violation of Roe v. Wade and nearly a half century of Supreme Court precedent. Every ban passed in 2019 remains blocked, despite continued attacks — including efforts from several states across the South and Midwest to restrict access to abortion during the COVID-19 pandemic. Today, abortion is still legal in all 50 states; though politically motivated, medically unnecessary restrictions still make access a challenge for too many.

The organizations issued the following statements:

Statement from Emily Nestler, senior staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights:
“This ban and the many other abortion bans being passed across the country are part of a coordinated, national strategy to overturn Roe v. Wade. A similar abortion ban in Tennessee was blocked just earlier today. These states are hellbent on denying the women in their state bodily autonomy. Meanwhile, Georgia has the worst maternal mortality rate in the country. Black women in Georgia face the highest risk — they are 3.3 times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications than white women. But instead of acting to help pregnant women, lawmakers are trying to ban abortion.”

Statement from Monica Simpson, executive director, SisterSong

As a reproductive justice organization based in Georgia for over 20 years, SisterSong is committed to centering and amplifying the needs of those communities historically pushed to the margins. This win is tremendous, and it is also makes a very bold statement. No one should have to live in a world where their bodies and reproductive decision making is controlled by the state. And we will continue to work to make sure that is never a reality in Georgia or anywhere else.

Statement from Kwajelyn J. Jackson, executive director, Feminist Women’s Health Center:

“We are thrilled at this decision that confirms what we have always known to be true – that the state cannot sacrifice a person’s constitutional rights to interfere in their private health decisions regarding pregnancy. In a time when so many of us are being compelled to reassert our humanity and demand that our lives be honored, it is a relief that we can firmly say to our patients and our communities that in this moment in Georgia, abortion access is not up for debate.”

Statement by Staci Fox, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Southeast:
"We said it from the start: Abortion bans like Georgia's are blatantly unconstitutional, and the courts reaffirmed that fact today. While people across this state and around the country are literally dying from COVID-19 and systemic racism, our leaders should be focused on expanding access to health care — not restricting it. We celebrate this victory, but we know the fight is far from over. We will not back down until access to health care — including safe, legal abortion — is recognized as a basic human right."

Statement by Alexis McGill Johnson, president and CEO, Planned Parenthood Federation of America:

“Georgia politicians and Governor Kemp, our message to you is clear: Banning abortion is illegal and unconstitutional. Not only that, the reality is that abortion bans are another barrier in a health care infrastructure built on systemic racism, putting basic rights out of reach for Black and Brown Georgians and pushing their freedoms further out of reach. While today is a victory for Georgia patients, we are committed to fighting back against all policies — overt or subtle — that make access to basic health care dependent on who you are or where you live.”

Statement from Elizabeth Watson, staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project:

"Georgia's law was a blatantly unconstitutional and baseless attack on abortion, and today's ruling recognized that.Georgia has one of the worst records in the country on Black maternal mortality — but instead of addressing that deadly crisis, Governor Kemp and anti-abortion politicians would apparently rather attack Georgians' reproductive freedom by passing a ban rooted in racism and misogyny. Georgians should have the right to access safe medical care whether they have decided to end a pregnancy or carry it to term, and we will always fight to make this a reality."

Statement from Sean J. Young, legal director, ACLU of Georgia:

“The district court blocked Georgia’s abortion ban, because it violates over 50 years of Supreme Court precedent and fails to trust women to make their own personal decisions. This case has always been about one thing: letting her decide. It is now up to the State to decide whether to appeal this decision and prolong this lawsuit,” said Sean J. Young, legal director of the ACLU of Georgia.

The organizations bringing forward the lawsuit are SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, Feminist Women’s Health Center, Planned Parenthood Southeast, Inc., Atlanta Comprehensive Wellness Clinic, Atlanta Women’s Medical Center, FemHealth USA d/b/a carafem, Columbus Women’s Health Organization, P.C., Summit Medical Associates, P.C., Carrie Cwiak, M.D., M.P.H., Lisa Haddad, M.D., M.S., M.P.H., and Eva Lathrop, M.D., M.P.H.

The defendants in the case are Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, Attorney General Christopher M. Carr, Commissioner for the Department of Public Health Kathleen Toomey, the Executive Director and Members of the Georgia Composite Medical Board, and the District Attorneys for the counties where the plaintiffs provide medical care — all sued in their official capacities.

SisterSong v. Kemp was filed in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division.