Amid Legal Threats, Kemp Signs Tougher ‘Heartbeat’ Abortion Restrictions

May 7, 2019

Editor's note: This story was updated at 1:47 p.m. Tuesday to include information from HB 481 signing protests

Starting Jan. 1, Georgia will have one of the strictest abortion laws in the country, if it survives legal challenges from abortion rights advocates and civil rights groups.

Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed HB 481, the Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act Tuesday morning.

Once the law takes effect, doctors would not be allowed to perform abortions after a heartbeat is detected, which is usually around six weeks into pregnancy. Current Georgia law allows abortions up to 20 weeks.

Exceptions would be made if a pregnancy is deemed ‘medically futile,’ when the life of the mother is at risk or if a police report is filed in the case of rape or incest.

Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, said this bill would effectively ban abortions for women in Georgia.

“Let’s be clear, women are highly unlikely to even know they’re pregnant at six weeks,” Fox said in an interview. “I don’t think we should pretend this is anything but an all-out ban on abortion in Georgia.”

Sen. Elena Parent (D-Atlanta) is one of many Democrats who have spoken out against the bill, calling the signing “a sad day for the women of Georgia and the Constitution” on Twitter.


Georgia will join several other Republican-controlled states that have passed tougher abortion legislation this year. The Governors of Ohio and Mississippi and Kentucky have approved their state’s bills; a federal judge has blocked Kentucky’s.

Both supporters and opponents of the LIFE Act think that Georgia’s bill, especially the personhood language, is designed to get the Supreme Court of the United States to reconsider its decision in Roe v. Wade.

Opposition Plans

The message to Kemp from abortion rights activists was clear, "We'll see you in court."

Fox, with Planned Parenthood, said fighting back must also happen outside the courtroom. 

"Yes, we will see Governor Kemp in court," Fox said, standing outside the Capitol Tuesday morning. "But we will see all of these elected [officials] that voted against women in the ballot box next fall."  

Dozens of people gathered on the steps of the Capitol after Gov. Kemp signed HB 481, which bans abortion after six weeks. The ACLU and Planned Parenthood each vowed to fight the measure in court.
Credit Ross Terrell / Georgia Public Broadcasting

She also lamented the idea that the focus on women's health has shifted solely to the legality of abortion. 

"We're not paying attention to the real health crisis in Georgia," she said.

Instead, Fox said people should be just as concernted that Georgia has the highest maternal mortatliy rates in the nation. 

The ACLU also vowed to bring a lawsuit against the governor after he signed HB 481. Andrea Young, director of the Georgia branch, said the most alarming thing is the lack of respect for women.

"It's a matter of respecting women's autonomy," Young said. "Women have to make these decisions for themselves, no one else. Not men in the legislature, not clergy, and not people from other faiths."

That sentiment was echoed by many of the women who showed up to protest the signing that would ban abortions after six weeks.    

Tee Stern, an abortion rights advocate, called herself unapologetic about the abortion she has had. Stern said her, her mother and grandmother had all gotten an abortion at some point in their lives. 

"Being pregnant is the most wonderful thing when you want it," Stern said. "Being pregnant when you don't is not. That is up to the woman to understand her emotion and ever other thing they need in order to raise a child."

Krystal Redmann, who's with SPARK Reproductive Justice Now, issued a more dire warning about the effects banning early abortions could have on women's health.

"If you have a person that already has preexisting medical conditions, potentially has low or no access to helathcare coverage, they're already at an at risk state in their life," Redman said. "And then you tack on a pregnancy that may or may not be wanted, that can be detrimental to that person's life."

But Fox, with Planned Parenthood attempted to offer a glimmer of hope for women who may be scared about the direction the state is headed in regards to the timeline for an abortion.

"These doors stay open," Fox said about her organization. "We will continue to provide quality, non-judgemental healthcare and that means safe and legal abortion no matter what. This law doesn't take effect until January and we are taking the governor to court."