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Georgia Abortion Laws

Abortion is legal in Georgia until the presence of a detectable fetal heartbeat. State law defines a detectable fetal heartbeat as "embryonic or fetal cardiac activity or the steady and repetitive rhythmic contraction of the heart within the gestational sac."

Claims have been made that a heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks into a pregnancy despite the heart not being formed by that point. After this time, abortion is illegal.

The state provides exceptions to its abortion ban in the following cases:

  • Medical Emergency: If a physician determines there is a condition that makes an abortion necessary to prevent death or a substantial and irreversible physical impairment of a major bodily function to the pregnant woman, an abortion is legal.
  • Rape or Incest: This exception applies if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest, a police report has been filed, and the probable gestational age of the fetus is 20 weeks or less.
  • Medical Futility: Abortion is permitted when a physician determines that the fetus has a profound and irremediable congenital or chromosomal anomaly that is incompatible with life after birth.

Georgia Abortion Law After Dobbs

Abortion remains a divisive issue in America today.

In 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in Roe v. Wade, concluding that the constitutional right to privacy included the right to abortion.

In 2022, the Court revisited the issue of abortion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, overturning Roe and holding there was no right to abortion in the U.S. Constitution. Rejecting almost 50 years of precedent, Dobbs returned to the states the right to regulate and even prohibit abortion.

The LIFE Act

In 2019, the Georgia legislature passed a "fetal heartbeat" law known as the LIFE Act. The law had the support of Gov. Brian Kemp, who signed it into effect. The LIFE Act prohibits most abortions once a physician can detect the supposed cardiac activity of the fetus, which lawmakers have estimated at six weeks of pregnancy. 

The law provides exceptions for abortion in cases of medical emergencies, medically futile pregnancies, and pregnancies that resulted from rape or incest. It also provides that procedures to remove a deceased fetus or an ectopic pregnancy do not constitute an abortion.

The law was controversial from the start. Women often may not know they are pregnant during the first six weeks of pregnancy. This leaves little time to terminate a pregnancy.

There's much debate over the lack of scientific basis behind the "heartbeat" standard. Medical authorities and researchers agree that the fetal heart does not form until at least nine or 10 weeks into a pregnancy.

A federal court in Georgia granted an initial injunction blocking the LIFE Act, as it conflicted with Roe in 2019. After the ruling in Dobbs in 2022, a federal appeals court overturned the order of the lower court. It found that Georgia's so-called "heartbeat law" could take effect.

A challenge in state court followed. Abortion rights supporters briefly obtained an injunction blocking the law when Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney issued a court ruling in their favor. On appeal, the Georgia Supreme Court reinstated the abortion ban and remanded the case to the trial court to review remaining state law claims.

Informed Consent Law

As early as 2005, Georgia lawmakers passed an informed consent law that contains several procedural abortion restrictions. The state has amended the law since that time.

The law requires an in-person or phone consultation with the physician or their agent at least 24 hours before an abortion. In this consultation, the abortion provider must inform the pregnant person about all of the following:

  • Medical risks associated with abortion
  • Medical risks associated with carrying a pregnancy to term, which are estimated to be 14 times as dangerous as an abortion
  • Probable gestational age of the fetus
  • The presence of a detectable fetal heartbeat
  • Medical assistance benefits for prenatal, childbirth, and maternal health care
  • The father's potential obligation to pay child support
  • How to reach agencies that can provide free ultrasound scans during the pregnancy
  • The right to review printed materials from the Department of Health on pregnancy and adoption services.

If an ultrasound scan is performed, the service provider must allow the pregnant patient to review it and listen to any detectable fetal heartbeat.

A pregnant woman seeking an abortion must sign and confirm that an abortion provider has complied with all these requirements before any abortion may take place. The Department of Health provides a Frequently Asked Questions page on its website to help inform the public of these regulations.

Enforcement Issues

The Republican-dominated state legislature may have passed the LIFE Act, but some Georgians have resisted enforcement of the statewide abortion ban. The Atlanta City Council passed a resolution stating that "no city funds shall be used to record or investigate reports of abortion care." It requested that its police department place reports of abortion services at the "lowest possible priority."

Unlike other jurisdictions where the law clearly states that a pregnant woman will not be prosecuted for an unlawful abortion, Georgia's LIFE Act is silent. Without explicit statutory protection, some reproductive rights advocates fear that local district attorneys may file charges against a woman who has an abortion to test the law.

Health Insurance and Abortion in Georgia

The state of Georgia has also sought to limit when health insurance may cover abortion services.

Health plans offered in the state's health exchange under the Affordable Care Act will only cover abortion in cases of medical emergency. State insurance policies for public employees only cover abortion in cases of life endangerment.

Georgia provides no additional Medicaid insurance funding beyond the federal Hyde Amendment exceptions for cases involving life endangerment, rape, or incest.

Georgia Abortion Laws at a Glance

The table below provides an overview of abortion laws in Georgia and provides links to applicable statutes.

Relevant Georgia Abortion Laws

Georgia Code

Title 15, Courts

Title 16, Crimes and Offenses

When Is Abortion Legal?

Abortion is legal in Georgia until the presence of a detectable fetal heartbeat, which state law claims to be about six weeks into pregnancy despite no medical proof.

State law provides exceptions that also make abortion legal in a medical emergency, a pregnancy determined to be medically futile, or a pregnancy that results from rape or incest if reported to police and performed when the fetus is at a gestational age of 20 weeks or less

Consent Requirements

Adult: In-person or phone consultation at least 24 hours in advance of the procedure; must include information on the risks of abortion, the risks of carrying to term, and information on the fetus' development; must also include information on medical and financial assistance related to childbirth and support; patient must provide written consent except in an emergency.

Minor (under 18): In addition to the informed consent provisions above, notice must be provided to a parent or guardian 24 hours prior to the procedure and the parent or guardian must accompany the minor. The parental notice provision can be waived if a judge grants a judicial bypass via a court process.

Penalty for Unlawful Abortion

A criminal abortion is punishable by one to 10 years of imprisonment.

A partial-birth abortion is punishable by up to five years of imprisonment and/or fines of up to $5,000.

Physicians who do not follow the exact procedures outlined in the Georgia Code can face charges of unprofessional medical conduct and can be subject to medical license sanctions. 

Physician Licensing Requirements

Only licensed physicians can perform abortions in Georgia.

Any abortion performed after the first trimester (12 weeks) must take place in a licensed hospital, licensed ambulatory surgical center, or in a health facility licensed as an abortion facility by the Department of Community Health.

Note: State laws are subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts that include federal decisions, ballot initiatives, and other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the status of any state law(s) you are reviewing.

How Georgia Abortion Laws Compare to Other States

Georgia's abortion ban at six weeks is one of the strictest abortion laws in the U.S. Neighboring South Carolina has a similar so-called "heartbeat" ban in place. In Florida, another six-week abortion ban will take effect on May 1, 2024.

Since the Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs, some 17 states now prohibit most abortion services. That number is likely to change as states pass new restrictions and state courts hand down rulings.

In contrast, some 30 states and D.C. provide protections for those choosing abortion up to the point of fetal viability.

In some states, courts have placed abortion bans on hold while they decide legal challenges. In 2024, several states will see ballot initiatives that allow voters to determine abortion access in their state in the future.

A Note About Medication Abortion

In 2000, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the two-drug pill regimen most commonly used in medication abortion. Abortion pills are only available in the early stages of pregnancy. A recent study shows that some 63% of abortions now involve medication abortion.

Abortion opponents filed a lawsuit in Texas federal court in 2022, seeking to stop the use of mifepristone, one of the two drugs involved in medication abortion. At the same time, several states where abortion remained legal filed a lawsuit to maintain access to the drug.

The U.S. Supreme Court stayed lower court rulings and permitted the use of mifepristone as it reviews the issues. A decision is expected in 2024.

Georgia Abortion Laws: Related Resources

Speak to an Attorney To Learn More About Georgia Abortion Laws

Are the constantly changing abortion laws confusing you? You're not alone. To keep up to date on changes in Georgia law, consider seeking legal advice. An experienced Georgia healthcare attorney can answer your questions and discuss your unique situation.  

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