ATLANTA (AP) — A judge is considering whether to block Georgia's new law that bans abortions after 20 weeks pending the outcome of a legal challenge after hearing arguments from both sides Thursday.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Doris Downs said she would decide by the end of next week whether to temporarily block the new law from taking effect as scheduled on Jan. 1.
The law bans doctors from performing abortions five months after an egg is fertilized, except when doctors 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.
Under existing 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.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia filed a lawsuit on behalf of three obstetricians challenging the law's constitutionality. The lawsuit says the exceptions are too narrow and that doctors could face prison even when they are treating patients "in accordance to the best medical judgment." The ACLU also says the law violates the state's privacy protections as provided for in the state constitution.
ACLU lawyer Alexa Kolbi Molinas argued that the law should be barred from taking effect Jan. 1 because it would cause "irreparable harm" to the health, lives and well-being of the doctors' patients. She also said the law allows the state to intrude into the most private and intimate details of patients' personal lives by allowing district attorneys seemingly unrestricted access to medical records.
The state argues that blocking the law from taking effect as scheduled would harm the state by going against the will of the General Assembly. Nels Peterson, a lawyer for the state, also argued that the ACLU's claims about the law allowing the state to intrude into patients' personal lives are unfounded because a Georgia statute on the books for nearly 40 years has already given district attorneys the rights in question and hasn't given rise to any complaints.
Georgia passed the law this year, becoming the seventh state in the country to approve a so-called fetal pain act. The law is modeled after a 2010 measure in Nebraska that inspired similar bills in Kansas, Alabama, Idaho, Indiana and Oklahoma. It departs from standards established by the U.S. Supreme Court, which allow states to limit abortions when there is a reasonable chance the fetus could survive outside the womb, generally considered to be 23 or 24 weeks.