A Fulton County judge has put newly-passed Georgia abortion restrictions in doubt after her recent ruling blocked it from taking effect. The law could also be the case pro-life groups have been looking for to overturn the 1973 Supreme Court Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal in the US.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Doris Downs on Friday halted a measure from taking effect in January that would prohibit most abortions after 20 weeks. She will rule later on the merits of the case.
The law, which was passed in the closing hours of the 2012 legislative session, 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.
It was the state Legislature's most sweeping attempt to limit abortion in years.
It was quickly targeted by the Georgia branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which filed a lawsuit to overturn the law on behalf of three doctors. It claimed physicians would have to face the "untenable choice" of risking prison time to provide the care their patients seek.
The lawsuit also has larger implications. Anti-abortion groups say a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, meaning that the state has an interest in protecting it.
The Georgia Attorney General's office did not immediately comment on the judge's ruling. Chad Brock, a staff attorney with the ACLU, said he was glad Downs halted the restrictions, if only temporarily, and urged lawmakers to pass new measures that would instead increase access to health services.