New battles likely in 2023 for Georgia's 6-week abortion law H.B. 481

Abortion-rights supporters protest in Downtown Atlanta on a Saturday afternoon in May 2022 following the leak of this summer’s Supreme Court decision. (Logan Lockner/WABE)

Georgia could see more battles over its abortion restrictions in 2023. The state Supreme Court is expected to take up a lawsuit challenging House Bill 481, which bans abortion after around six weeks of pregnancy, when cardiac activity can be detected in the womb and before many women know they’re pregnant.

The lawsuit brought by the ACLU on behalf of Georgia advocacy groups and abortion providers was initially heard this fall in Fulton County Superior Court. 

After a two-day trial in Atlanta, Judge Robert McBurney ruled H.B. 481 was unenforceable because it was unconstitutional when it was originally passed and signed into law — in 2019, well before the United States Supreme Court decision this summer that overturned Roe v. Wade.

The Georgia Supreme Court then granted a request from the Attorney General’s office to stay the block and allow the law to go back into effect while the state’s official appeal of the decision moves through the courts.

And the six-week ban took effect just before Thanksgiving.

Since then, abortion providers have again been turning away patients whose pregnancies are beyond the six-week cutoff.

“It’s kind of emotional at times, especially when you have to tell a patient the news that you’re not able to be seen here in Georgia. And sometimes patients aren’t aware of the law, most people have not been aware of it being back to what it is. So it’s just very disheartening,” said Feminist Women’s Health Center front office supervisor and patient coordinator Antoinette. 

She’s keeping her last name private out of fear for her safety. The independent clinic is a regular target of anti-abortion activists. 

Staff turn away roughly seven patients a day after ultrasound exams reveal their pregnancies are beyond the legal gestational limit, clinic officials said.  

Feminist Women’s Health Center and other Georgia abortion providers refer patients in this situation to abortion providers in other states where the procedure is accessible until later in pregnancy.

The closest one to Atlanta is located about two-and-a-half hours away in Greenville, South Carolina.

“For the patients here, they will go through counseling and we provide them with information for the Greenville Women’s Clinic in Greenville. Then there are three or four clinics in North Carolina, and then I think it’s one or two in Florida,” Feminist Women’s Health Center Operations Manager Tracii Wesley said. 

Patients who need financial assistance to help cover their travel costs are also referred to organizations that offer it, such as the National Abortion Federation.

Abortion providers around the state are also watching for any abortion-related legislation that could be introduced during the upcoming 2023 legislative session.  

On the campaign trail, Gov. Brian Kemp promised no new abortion restrictions for the state. 

It’s unclear when judges at the Georgia Supreme Court will hear the ACLU lawsuit challenging H.B. 481.