It’s from that definition that the measure and others like it around the country take their names: “heartbeat bills.” Though, technically, these aren’t “fetal heartbeats.” ACOG says at six weeks, a woman is carrying an embryo, not a fetus.
But Georgia’s law does not ban all abortions as early as six weeks. It does offer some exceptions: if a doctor determines a pregnancy is “medically futile;” to protect the life of the mother; in the case of rape or incest, if a police report has been filed.
Opponents argue a ban at around six weeks is effectively an outright abortion ban, since many women don’t know they’re pregnant at that time.
What about the “personhood” of an embryo?
Georgia’s law doesn’t just ban most abortions as soon as six weeks into a pregnancy. It also defines an embryo as a person as soon as cardiac activity can be detected in the womb.
That gives embryos certain rights. For example, they would need to be included in population counts and could be claimed as a dependent for taxation purposes. It also means a mother could claim child support for an embryo.
Current Georgia law allows abortions during the first 20 weeks of a pregnancy. There are exceptions in the case of rape or incest, to protect the life of the mother, or if the pregnancy is deemed “medically futile.”
Based on the wording of the law, miscarriages are not included in the definition of “abortion.”
The measure specifically exempts any “naturally occurring death of an unborn child, including a miscarriage or stillbirth” and the removal of an ectopic pregnancy from that definition.
Staci Fox, the CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, has argued that a woman with a miscarriage could be pulled into an investigation about whether it was an abortion or not. But there is nothing in the bill language on the topic.
When will the legal fight start?
The heads of the ACLU of Georgia and Planned Parenthood Southeast have both said they would be involved in legal challenges to the measure.
A spokesperson for the ACLU of Georgia said their case will likely be filed over the summer. That would be before the law takes effect on Jan. 1, 2020.
If a suit is filed, a judge could temporarily block the law from taking effect while the case proceeds. A federal judge did just that with a Kentucky abortion law earlier this year before striking it down.
Still, legal experts say that could take a while — as long as a year. And there’s no guarantee the high court would even decide to hear such a case or that Georgia’s would be the one chosen.
It’s also important to remember Roe v. Wade is not the only relevant Supreme Court ruling on abortion.
Planned Parenthood v. Caseyupheld the basic principle of Roe that women have a right to end a pregnancy. But it also said states could regulate abortions, so long as those regulations did not create an “undue burden.”
What’s the difference between Georgia’s law and Alabama’s law?
First of all, Georgia’s law includes exceptions for rape and incest, which Alabama’s does not. (Alabama’s law and Georgia’s both include exceptions for ectopic pregnancies, lethal anomalies in unborn children and medical emergencies.)
Secondly, Georgia’s treats an embryo as a person with full legal rights, which Alabama’s law does not.
Why is it such a hot topic now if any court decision is so far off?
These “heartbeat bills” are quickly becoming an issue in the 2020 election. There is fundraising around “protections of women’s rights” on the left and fundraising around “pro-life” agendas on the right.
As WABE Legal Analyst Page Pate put it: “Both sides are wanting everybody to panic and make this a huge issue, and it’s the most potent thing to drive out votes. And that’s all fine. It’s an important issue but legally there’s no fire alarm going off right now in the courts.”