Back in 2012, Georgia passed a law banning abortions after 20 weeks. This law faced an injunction, and never went into effect, until last October. Except the obstetricians suing — and the agency tasked with enforcing the law — apparently didn’t know the lawsuit had been dismissed.
The 20 week ban is based on junk science that fetuses feel pain. Previously, abortions in Georgia could be performed up to 24 weeks. Accessing abortion care during this time is critical for many families. Pregnant folks face fetal anomalies, exacerbated health conditions or simply the challenge of getting together enough money for the procedure itself (and to cover related travel expenses).
The lawsuit was dismissed because, the judge argued, the state was protected by sovereign immunity. In other words, the state of Georgia can’t be sued, even if there is a question about the constitutionality of a law.
The summer of 2014, according to a variety of media reports, is the last time either party submitted information for the case. Over a year later, the judge, dismissed the lawsuit, with the AP reporting that:
[The judge] “did not arrive at this conclusion with haste or ease,” and she invited an appeal of her decision “to address any existing inadequacies in our existing law.”
Openly anti-abortion Attorney General Sam Olens received notice shortly after the decision to dismiss the suit was made.
However, the ACLU, suing on behalf of several obstetricians, did not receive notice, impacting their ability to appeal the decision within the thirty day period that is allowed.
“All we can tell you is that no one seems to have known about this,” said Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU’s reproductive freedom project, told WABE.
WABE further reported that:
According to what the ACLU said, there was about a four-month period in which abortions after 20 weeks were prohibited and doctors didn’t know…In that four months, the ACLU missed its chance to appeal the decision to a higher court.
Additionally, the Dept. of Public Health, which enforces these sorts of laws, did not know, and explicitly offered guidance to physicians that that law had still not gone into effect, and thus that abortions after twenty weeks were still legal.
On Wednesday, the judge agreed to essentially throw out and reissue the decision, which would give the ACLU a second chance to appeal the decision.
Abortion is not the right decision for everyone, even for folks carrying medically or emotionally dangerous pregnancies. But it is the right choice for some people, and an important part of being able to receive appropriate medical care.
If this law cannot be overturned, it means more hardships for folks seeking abortion care. And it’s pretty disturbing that the folks impacted by the law — those seeking or providing abortions after 20 weeks — had no idea it even went into effect.