A Fulton County judge has stopped Georgia from enforcing its restrictive law that banned nearly all abortions after about six weeks, when cardiac activity is first detected in the embryo and before most women know they are pregnant.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney issued the order Tuesday, Nov. 15. The order means abortions can be provided up until about 22 weeks of pregnancy as they were allowed before Georgia’s 2019 law took effect in July. The state’s law went into effect shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which provided federal protections for abortions for nearly 50 years.

“What does this ruling mean?” McBurney wrote. “Most fundamentally, it means that courts — not legislatures — define the law. This is nothing new, but it seems increasingly forgotten (or ignored) …”

“Put differently, this ruling is merely a reinforcement of what ought to be for everyone the uncontroversial notion that, if the judicial branch has declared a constitutional right, legislatures exceed their authority, improperly expand their role, and fundamentally alter the balance struck by the separation of powers when they enact laws they know to be plainly and facially unconstitutional,” he added. “Those laws are void upon passage.”

McBurney also denied a motion from the state’s attorneys to dismiss the lawsuit.

The state has already filed an appeal with the Georgia Supreme Court.

Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, the lead plaintiff in the case, said in a prepared statement, “After a long road, we are finally able to celebrate the end of an extreme abortion ban in our state.”

“While we applaud the end of a ban steeped in white supremacy, it should not have existed in the first place,” Simpson said.

“Now, it’s time to move forward with a vision for Georgia that establishes full bodily autonomy and liberation for our communities,” Simpson said. “We will continue to work towards a Georgia in which everyone — including Black women and queer, trans, and low-income people — has the freedom to decide to have children, to not have children, and to raise the families they have in thriving communities. We will have to keep fighting in Georgia to hold our legislators accountable, but this ruling proves we have the power to keep winning.”

McBurney did not address the right to privacy in Georgia’s constitution in his ruling, however. Another anti-abortion law could come up in the General Assembly, tweeted Josh McLaurin, an attorney who was just elected to represent State Senate District 14 which includes Sandy Springs.

Georgia’s House Bill 481, officially named “Living Infants Fairness and Equality Act,” was passed in 2019 but blocked in court for almost three years.

Abortion rights advocates and providers filed suit in Fulton Superior Court after a federal court of appeals decided the state’s abortion ban would immediately take effect. 

This story has been updated with a statement from SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective and a copy of the state’s notice of appeal.

Dyana Bagby

Dyana Bagby is a staff writer for Reporter Newspapers and Atlanta Intown.