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Georgia Prosecutors Stand Firm Against Abortion Ban After Ruling

July 25, 2022, 9:50 AM

Georgia’s elected prosecutors and a state lawmaker said they stand by their commitments against criminalizing reproductive health decisions after a federal appeals court allowed the state’s six-week abortion ban to take effect.

Democratic lawmakers and officials have been voicing their opposition to efforts that threaten abortion rights following the US Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade. Seven Georgia prosecutors signed a nationwide joint statement last month declining to use their offices’ resources to criminalize abortion.

“Everybody who proactively made those commitments were already aware” that state Republicans were pushing to have Georgia’s abortion law go into effect, Georgia state Rep. Renitta Shannon (D) said in an interview July 22. “I don’t expect anybody to go back on their commitment.”

Her comments came after the US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit last week vacated a lower court injunction on the state’s controversial abortion law, which prohibits the procedure after a fetal heartbeat is detected. Shannon recently testified to Congress about the disparate negative impact that state abortion bans will have on low-income communities and women of color.

District attorneys in Georgia say they maintain their previously stated positions to defend abortion rights.

“Until our community is rid of violent crime and sexual predators, I will not expend our limited resources to prosecute women and their doctors for personal healthcare decisions,” Jared Williams, district attorney for the Augusta Judicial Circuit, said in a June 24 statement after the Supreme Court’s decision.

Patsy Austin-Gatson, district attorney for the Gwinnett Judicial Circuit, said July 22 that she stands by her position but will review occurrences on a case-by-case basis should they come through her office.

“There is so much more involved when a right women have had for fifty years is summarily removed,” Austin-Gatson said in an emailed statement. “There are tons of nuances surrounding this issue that the law has not taken into account.”

Sherry Boston, the district attorney for DeKalb County, told Bloomberg Law she will continue to use her prosecutorial discretion to protect her community.

“Since the dawn of the criminal justice system, prosecutors have always had the ability to make decisions about which cases they choose to prosecute and what cases they choose not to prosecute,” she said.

“As the DA of DeKalb who has limited resources, we have chosen to focus our energy on serious violent crime—such as murder, rape, aggravated child molestation, and the backlog of criminal cases that have happened as a result of the unprecedented shutdown due to Covid—and we will continue to put our resources there rather than taking away from that to potentially investigate women and doctors for medical decisions,” Boston said.

Because the Georgia Legislature doesn’t convene again until January 2023, legislative fights over the ban will have to be placed on hold. Still, Shannon urged those who feel strongly about the issue to “show up in November to vote.”

“There are positions up for election that will be able to have an impact on this law—as to whether or not it’s something that’s just allowed to stand, or if it’s something that folks will be aggressively working to have repealed within Georgia,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jalen Brown in Washington at jbrown@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Alexis Kramer at akramer@bloomberglaw.com