Federal judge blocks 'heartbeat' abortion law

Channel 2's Justin Wilfon reports.

ATLANTA — A federal judge has blocked Georgia’s anti-abortion law from going into effect.

District Judge Steve C. Jones issued a ruling Tuesday blocking House Bill 481 from taking effect Jan. 1 while a challenge to the law makes its way through court.

[READ the judge's ruling here]

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The law essentially bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy but makes exceptions for rape, incest and the mother's health.

“We’re very pleased with the judge’s ruling,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the ACLU of Georgia.

The ruling came after the ACLU sued the state, claiming the law is unconstitutional.

"Our view is: Let her decide. Women have the ability, the moral authority and the responsibility to make these decisions themselves without government interference," Young told Channel 2's Justin Wilfon.

The law was set to take effect in Georgia on Jan. 1, 2020, but the judge’s ruling prevents that while the case makes its way through the court.

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Wilfon also spoke Tuesday night with the law’s main sponsor, Republican state Rep. Ed Setzler, of Acworth.

“Well, it’s no huge surprise that some federal judge in this process, particularly in this very early stage, might put some obstacles to this law being fully implemented,” Setzler said.

But, he said, he still believes that, at some point, it will become law and protect the unborn.

“Science, law and common sense tells us that a child in utero is a living distinct person, distinct from their mothers. They have their own blood type. They have their own heartbeat,” Setzler said.

A spokesperson for Gov. Brian Kemp's office sent a statement, saying:

"We are currently reviewing Judge Jones' decision. Despite today's outcome, we remain confident in our position. We will continue to fight for the unborn and work to ensure that all Georgians have the opportunity to live, grow, and prosper."

The so-called heartbeat law is one of a wave of laws passed recently by Republican-controlled legislatures in an attack on the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

None of the bans has taken effect. Some have already been blocked and, elsewhere, courts are considering requests to put them on hold while legal challenges play out.

It’s still unclear when Jones could make his next ruling on the constitutionality of the law. Until he does, the law is on hold.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Associated Press contributed to this article.