Georgia anti-abortion advocates cheer Supreme Court's Roe decision, plan for next legislative session

A celebration outside the Supreme Court, Friday, June 24, 2022, in Washington. The Supreme Court has ended constitutional protections for abortion that had been in place nearly 50 years — a decision by its conservative majority to overturn the court's landmark abortion cases. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

For many Georgia anti-abortion advocates, Friday’s decision by the United States Supreme Court striking down the landmark 1973 decision guaranteeing abortion access nationwide is a long-awaited victory.

Georgia Life Alliance executive director Martha Zoller says she was working outside the National Right to Life Convention in Atlanta when news of the high court’s ruling came down.

“I got the notice on my phone and then it started. You could tell the people were getting the notices on their phone. And then everybody was getting together. People began cheering. Some people cried, some people laughed. But it was a really wonderful moment. It’s a celebration today — but then we’ve got to get back to work tomorrow,” Zoller says.

Her group is part of a network of anti-abortion activists across the state that’s now turning its attention to implementing Georgia’s abortion law HB 481.

The law bans abortion at around six weeks of pregnancy except in certain circumstances, including rape or incest — only if a police report is filed — miscarriage and pregnancies deemed “medically futile.”

“We’re not looking for a special session to ban abortion. We’re not looking for any of that at this point in time,” she says. “We think the “heartbeat bill” needs to be put into place, and that’s what we need to go off of.”

HB 481, signed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in 2019, has been on hold in the courts awaiting the Supreme Court’s ruling on federal abortion guarantees.

The court’s Roe decision opens the door for individual states to enact their own abortion laws.

“Today’s landmark ruling is a historic victory for life,” Kemp said in a written statement. “I hope our law will be fully implemented and ultimately protect countless unborn lives here in the Peach State.”

For now, abortion remains legal in Georgia up to 20 weeks after fertilization.

But judges at the Eleventh Judicial Circuit Court of Appeals could take up the Georgia law again soon.

And on Friday, State Attorney General Chris Carr said his office has already filed a notice with the court, requesting it allow Georgia’s abortion law to take effect.

“I’m very excited about what the court has done, says Cole Muzio, president of the Christian policy advocacy group Frontline Policy Council.

“And now that Roe has been overturned, there is no reason that HB 481 should not be implemented immediately. And so I’m very, very confident that this bill will be implemented,” Muzio says. “This does nothing to harm women who are suffering from a miscarriage or have a sort of medical emergency. Those women are still protected.”

Abortion-rights advocates maintain Georgia’s six-week ban would delay care for many women experiencing a miscarriage or other pregnancy complications and worsen the state’s maternal mortality rates, which are some of the worst in the nation.

The next state legislative session will likely be pivotal for the anti-abortion movement in Georgia.

Zoller says abortion laws should be decided on the state level.

“It is much better to have a local legislator passing legislation that you actually might know, be able to vote for, be able to have interaction with,” she says. “So I think what we showed is, is that we are more representative of what the American people think.”

A top priority for anti-abortion advocates in the next session, Zoller says, is reintroducing SB 456, which failed to pass during the last session. That bill would limit the ability of physicians to prescribe abortion medication by telemedicine.

“Our position is that you should see a doctor if you’re going to get that pill cocktail because it does induce a miscarriage and you could have a complication with that,” she says. “And we don’t want you to just be dealing with a telemedicine doctor in that situation.”

The federal government began allowing the practice during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Food and Drug Administration approved medication abortion more than 20 years ago.

More than half of all abortion procedures in the U.S. are now done with medication, data from the Guttmacher Institute show.