ATLANTA — A panel of federal appeals court judges indicated Friday that it may delay ruling on Georgia’s restrictive anti-abortion law, which was initially struck down last year.
Chief Judge Bill Pryor of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals told lawyers that it might make more sense to suspend the case until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the challenge of another anti-abortion law out of Mississippi.
The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments Dec. 1 in a case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, over the constitutionality of Mississippi’s ban on most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.
“The question presented, as I understand it in Dobbs, no matter which way the Supreme Court answers it — affirmatively or negatively — it seems to me that it’s going to bear directly on the correct outcome of this controversy,” Pryor said.
The three-judge panel heard arguments on the constitutionality of Georgia’s 2019 abortion law, which bans the procedure after a doctor can detect fetal cardiac activity — typically about six weeks into a pregnancy and before many women know they are pregnant.
If the Supreme Court rules in favor of allowing the Mississippi law to take effect, attorneys in Georgia may need to file additional documents to support their arguments.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, on behalf of the abortion rights group SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice and several abortion providers, sued Gov. Brian Kemp and other state officials in 2019. A federal district judge struck down the law in 2020, blocking it from taking effect, and the state filed its appeal shortly after the ruling.
Pryor said standards set by previous Supreme Court rulings, including the landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, have established a woman’s constitutional right to access to the procedure without “undue burden.”
“The question is whether the regulation has the purpose or effect of placing a substantial obstacle in the path of a woman seeking an abortion of a nonviable fetus,” Pryor said to the state’s lawyers. “It seems to me that, at least based on the stipulated record, you (the state) couldn’t possibly win.”
But the judges said other parts of the Georgia law could be allowed to take effect even if they also ruled to strike down the ban on abortions.