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Georgia governor just signed a near-total abortion ban into law

The law also recognizes an embryo or fetus as a "natural person" who qualifies as a dependent for tax purposes.

ATHENS, GA - NOVEMBER 06:  Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp attends the Election Night event at the Classic Center on November 6, 2018 in Athens, Georgia.  Kemp is in a close race with Democrat Stacey Abrams.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
ATHENS, GA - NOVEMBER 06: Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp attends the Election Night event at the Classic Center on November 6, 2018 in Athens, Georgia. Kemp is in a close race with Democrat Stacey Abrams. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) signed a near-total abortion ban into law on Tuesday.

The so-called “fetal heartbeat” ban appears to be the only bill related to reproductive health that Kemp has signed in 2019 so far, even as the state grapples with a maternal mortality crisis — where for every 100,000 births, 62 black women die due to pregnancy complications.

The measure faced plenty of pushback from various groups when the Georgia legislature first passed it. Reproductive rights and justice organizations occupied the state house for several weeks before the vote in late March; Coca-Cola and Amazon executives wrote lawmakers to oppose the bill, HB 481; and the Writers Guild even warned that the film and television industry, which pours a lot of money into the local economy, would leave the state when Kemp makes HB 481 law. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) also vowed to sue when Georgia officially makes the bill law.

The ban will outlaw abortion at the time when a physician can first detect cardiac activity, or as early as six weeks’ gestation — before many people even know they are pregnant. The law only makes exceptions for medical emergencies. The law also recognizes an embryo or fetus as a “natural person” who can qualify as a dependent minor for income tax purposes and certain population-based determinations.

“Governor Kemp put politics before the health and well-being of Georgia women and their families. In a state with a devastatingly high maternal mortality rate, particularly for Black women, politicians should be focused on improving health care access for all women, not banning abortion before most women know they’re pregnant,” said Talcott Camp, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, in a statement to ThinkProgress.

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“This bill is part of an orchestrated national agenda to push abortion care out of reach and we won’t stand for it.  Governor Kemp, we will see you in court,” she added.

A federal judge already sided with the ACLU in another lawsuit challenging Kentucky’s near-total abortion ban. District Judge David J. Hale, an Obama-era appointee, temporarily blocked a Kentucky law in mid-March because the law was potentially unconstitutional.

The Supreme Court, in Roe v. Wade, said no state can outlaw abortion before the fetus is determined to be viable, which is somewhere around 24 weeks. But states like Kentucky, Ohio, Mississippi, and Georgia are still passing six-week abortion bans in the hopes that lawsuits will make their way to the Supreme Court and provide conservative justices an opportunity to overturn Roe 

“The surge in attempts to ban abortion in the earliest stages of pregnancy underscores that the end goal of anti-abortion politicians and activists is to ban all abortion—at any point during pregnancy and for any reason—even as they shamelessly spin a false and inflammatory narrative about abortion later in pregnancy,” Elizabeth Nash, a senior state issues manager with the Guttmacher Institute, told ThinkProgress in a statement.

A new Kaiser Family foundation poll shows this tactic is very unpopular. Indeed, the poll found most Americans oppose a so-called heartbeat bill when they learn it’s tantamount to a near-total abortion ban. The poll also found over 60% of the public does not want to overturn Roe.

This story has been updated to include comment from the ACLU.