Georgia Doctors Ask Judge to Halt Midterm Abortion Limits

Three Georgia doctors asked a state judge for an order blocking enforcement of laws limiting availability of midterm abortions to emergencies and instances where a pregnancy has been deemed “medically futile.”

Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union presented the doctors’ arguments today before Judge Doris L. Downs in Atlanta, saying the law violates the state constitution.

“It is unconstitutional on its face,” ACLU attorney Alexa Kolbi-Molinas told the judge. “It is undisputed that plaintiffs will suffer irreparable harm.”

The measures are part of an act signed into law May 1 by first-term Republican Governor Nathan Deal, who said then that the legislation gave additional protection to “unborn babies.”

“The act, which bans nearly all pre-viability abortions after 20 weeks post-fertilization, infringes on the fundamental right of a woman to decide whether and when to bear a child,” and breaches rights enshrined in Georgia’s constitution, the ACLU argued in a Nov. 30 complaint.

The New York-based ACLU is also seeking a finding that the act is unconstitutional. Downs said today that she expects to issue a ruling by next week on whether to stop the measure from taking effect Jan. 1.

‘About Abortion’

“This is a case about abortion,” the state said in opposition papers filed Dec. 13. “It is not, however, a case about the federal right to an abortion recognized by the United States Supreme Court in decisions binding on all courts in this state.”

The doctors’ lawyers are asking the court to find a right to abortion in the state’s constitution that is separate and distinct from that found in the federal document, Attorney General Sam Olens argued in the filing.

“A careful review of the text and history of the Georgia Constitution will reveal that such a right does not exist,” the attorney general said.

Kolbi-Molinas of the ACLU today singled out the provision of the law that allows prosecutors to obtain patients’ medical records, which she said would violate their constitutional right to privacy.

Nels Peterson, solicitor general for the Georgia attorney general’s office, told Downs that judges could interpret the state’s new abortion law as requiring a search warrant before obtaining patient records, a safeguard that he said has been ruled constitutional.

“The plaintiffs have not articulated any harm,” he told the judge today.

The case is Lathrop v. Deal, 2012-cv-224423, Superior Court of Fulton County, Georgia (Atlanta).

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Harris in Chicago at aharris16@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andrew Dunn at adunn8@bloomberg.net

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