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Attorneys General Heat Up as Reproductive Rights Cases Take Center Stage

February 24, 2022 by Kate Michael
Handmaids protest abortion restrictions at a recent rally. (AP Photo/John O'Connor File)

WASHINGTON — As the nation waits on tenterhooks to find out how the Supreme Court will rule on a Mississippi case to decide whether all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional, advocates and opponents of abortion laws across the country are considering the implications of a potential change to the longstanding doctrine established in Roe v. Wade.

Some states like Nevada have created additional protections for reproductive rights. Others, like Texas and Georgia, are seeking to codify state laws restricting access, including rules for parental notification or consent requirements for minors, limitations on public funding, mandated counseling, waiting periods or other regulations.

But many of these more restrictive state laws are on hold, at least until mid-June when the Supreme Court is expected to release its decision on Mississippi’s Dobbs v. Jackson’s Health Organization.

One of three cases heard by the Supreme Court during its October 2021 term that related to abortion, Dobbs bans abortion after 15 weeks and establishes requirements for doctors performing abortions. The ruling on this case, with a conservative-leaning court, is considered by many to be the most likely to undermine the constitutional right to abortion services as established in Roe v. Wade.

“Here in Nevada, abortion is legal and it’s easily accessible,” Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford recently told D.C.-based public policy organization Third Way. “It’s an important Constitutional right.”

Contemplating a world where Roe could be overturned, Ford reminded that Nevada not only added an affirmative right to choose into state law in 1973, but reinforced the state’s commitment to pre-viability abortion services with subsequent initiatives in 1990 that would remain in effect even if Roe’s protections were removed.

Ford’s partner in the think tank discussion was not Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr, but rather Jen Jordan, Democratic candidate for attorney general of Georgia and state senator for the 6th District. She did not exactly provide a counterpoint — although the state of Georgia is at odds with Nevada’s abortion permissions.

“Some states are going to be protective of women and some states, like Georgia, are not,” Jordan said. “For women in Georgia, it’s really a scary time, but probably the only light out there is that there are states that are protective of women’s rights, like Nevada.”

Georgia’s own law under Constitutional review, HB 481, is currently tied up in the U.S. 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which is waiting on the Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision before issuing a ruling.

The Living Infants Fairness Equality Act, also known as the Heartbeat Bill, would ban most abortions once a doctor can detect a fetal cardiac activity — a heartbeat — usually around the sixth week of pregnancy. It also includes what some call “personhood” language, which grants legal rights to a fertilized egg.

Though Georgia’s law is still pending, Carr’s office told The Well News that he “firmly believes that the state [will] prevail in its case in the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, allowing Georgia’s Heartbeat Bill to take effect.”

Jordan, however, hopes Georgia’s Heartbeat Bill will be struck down. And even if the Supreme Court’s decision does clear the way, she suggested she would use the office of attorney general — should she be elected into it — to inhibit its passage.

“If I’m attorney general, on day one, I’ll issue an opinion that basically says that that law [HB 481] cannot go into effect until it has been re-ratified by the General Assembly,” Jordan told Third Way.

In response, a representative from Carr for Georgia’s re-election campaign told The Well News, “It’s the job of the attorney general of Georgia to defend the laws of the state in court, not pick and choose which laws take effect. Chris Carr is vigorously defending this law – and others – and those who wouldn’t have disqualified themselves from the job.”

Kate can be reached at kate@thewellnews.com

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