Case: SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective v. Georgia

2022CV367796 | Georgia state trial court

Filed Date: July 26, 2022

Case Ongoing

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Case Summary

On July 26, 2022, SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Collective, Feminist Women’s Health Center, Planned Parenthood Southeast, Atlanta Comprehensive Wellness Clinic, Atlanta Women’s Medical Center, Femhealth, Summit Medical Associates, Medical Students for Choice, and three physicians filed suit against the state of Georgia in the Superior Court for Fulton County (Georgia state trial court). The plaintiffs challenged the state's Six-Week Ban on abortion and the Records Access Provision enac…

On July 26, 2022, SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Collective, Feminist Women’s Health Center, Planned Parenthood Southeast, Atlanta Comprehensive Wellness Clinic, Atlanta Women’s Medical Center, Femhealth, Summit Medical Associates, Medical Students for Choice, and three physicians filed suit against the state of Georgia in the Superior Court for Fulton County (Georgia state trial court). The plaintiffs challenged the state's Six-Week Ban on abortion and the Records Access Provision enacted through H.B. 481, the “Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act” in 2019. The Six-Week Ban prohibited and criminalized abortion after six weeks of pregnancy, with minor exceptions. The Records Access Provision expanded upon a preexisting statutory provision that granted district attorneys virtually unfettered access to the medical files of anyone seeking an abortion, without a subpoena. Represented by the national ACLU, the ACLU of Georgia, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the Center for Reproductive Rights, and private counsel, the plaintiffs argued that the Six-Week Ban violated the Georgia Constitution’s rights to (a) liberty and privacy guaranteed by art. I, § 1, ¶ I (due process) and ¶ XXIX (inherent rights), and (b) equal protection as guaranteed by art. I, § 1, ¶ II. They also claimed that because federal constitutional law clearly prohibited pre-viability abortion bans when the Six-Week Ban was enacted in 2019, the Act was void ab initio and unenforceable. Plaintiffs sought (1) a declaratory judgment that the LIFE Act, the Records Provision Act, and then Six-Week Ban violated the Georgia Constitution, (2) a temporary restraining order, interlocutory injunction, and permanent injunction prohibiting the state from enforcing any of the above provisions, and (3) attorneys’ costs and fees. This case was assigned to Judge Robert C. I. McBurney.

On August 15, 2022, the court dismissed the plaintiffs’ emergency motion seeking preliminary injunctive relief, filed with the complaint. The court reasoned that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the motion on its merits since one cannot sue the state unless the state has enacted a specific waiver permitting a particular claim. The court rejected the plaintiffs’ argument that, because Paragraph V of the Georgia Constitution authorizes “actions … seeking declaratory relief,” the waiver by implication encompassed all forms of relief attendant to a declaratory judgment action. Instead, the court interpreted that provision to mean that courts may not enjoin allegedly unconstitutional state action until after they award declaratory relief. As such, the Six-Week Ban on abortion and the Records Access Provision remained in place as litigation continued.

On November 15, 2022, the court granted in part the plaintiffs’ motion for partial judgment on the pleadings, holding that two sections of the LIFE Act were void ab initio and denied the state's motion to dismiss the remaining claims. The court reasoned that Georgia’s ab initio doctrine dictated that if an act was unconstitutional at the date of its passage, then it would forever be void. As such, the Six-Week Ban, specifically Sections 4 and 11 of H.B. 481, enacted at a time when it was federally unconstitutional to ban abortion, were void, permanently enjoined, and could only be law if re-enacted. Until then, the state could not enforce the parts of the LIFE Act that criminalized abortion after six weeks and required any physician performing an abortion after six weeks to report an exception to the ban. As to the remaining claims, the Court denied the state's motion to dismiss, citing the state’s strong privacy protections for medical records and finding that the plaintiffs had standing to challenge the law's curtailment of those protections.

The state appealed on November 16, 2022 to the Supreme Court of Georgia. The Supreme Court then granted an emergency stay of the injunction pending appeal, on November 23, 2022. As such, Georgia's near-total abortion ban was reinstated and enforceable as litigation continued. Oral arguments were heard before the Georgia Supreme Court on March 28, 2023.

On October 24, 2023, the Georgia Supreme Court upheld the six-week ban, concluding that it was not void ab initio. The court concluded that because the challenge was filed after Dobbs, the inquiry was not based on Roe-era precedent. The court was required to faithfully apply Dobbs, and under Dobbs, Georgia's six-week ban was consistent with the federal Constitution. This analysis was true even though the ban was passed before Dobbs was decided. The court therefore reversed the trial court's determination that the ban was void ab initio and remanded the case for further proceedings. 

The case is ongoing.

Summary Authors

Kathleen Lok (3/21/2023)

Michelle Wolk (11/10/2023)

People


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Documents in the Clearinghouse

Document

2022CV367796

Docket

May 18, 2023

May 18, 2023

Docket
1

2022CV367796

Verified Complaint

Sistersong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. Georgia

July 26, 2022

July 26, 2022

Complaint

2022CV367796

Order Dismissing Motion for Preliminary Injunctive Relief

Aug. 15, 2022

Aug. 15, 2022

Order/Opinion

2022CV367796

Order on Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings and Motion to Dismiss

Sistersong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective. Georgia

Nov. 15, 2022

Nov. 15, 2022

Order/Opinion

S23M0358

Order

Georgia state supreme court

Nov. 23, 2022

Nov. 23, 2022

Order/Opinion

S23M0358

Remittitur

State of Georgia v. SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective

Georgia state supreme court

Dec. 8, 2022

Dec. 8, 2022

Order/Opinion

S23M0358

Opinion

Georgia v. SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective

Georgia state supreme court

Oct. 24, 2023

Oct. 24, 2023

Order/Opinion

2023 WL 2023

Resources

Docket

Last updated Aug. 30, 2023, 1:25 p.m.

Docket sheet not available via the Clearinghouse.

Case Details

State / Territory: Georgia

Case Type(s):

Reproductive Issues

Key Dates

Filing Date: July 26, 2022

Case Ongoing: Yes

Plaintiffs

Plaintiff Description:

A group of non-profit healthcare organizations who provide and promote abortion care and three physicians.

Plaintiff Type(s):

Private Plaintiff

Non-profit NON-religious organization

Attorney Organizations:

ACLU National (all projects)

ACLU Affiliates (any)

Center for Reproductive Rights

Planned Parenthood Federation of America

Public Interest Lawyer: Yes

Filed Pro Se: No

Class Action Sought: No

Class Action Outcome: Not sought

Defendants

State of Georgia, State

Defendant Type(s):

Jurisdiction-wide

Facility Type(s):

Non-government non-profit

Case Details

Causes of Action:

State law

Available Documents:

Trial Court Docket

Complaint (any)

Injunctive (or Injunctive-like) Relief

Outcome

Prevailing Party: Plaintiff

Nature of Relief:

Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement

Declaratory Judgment

Source of Relief:

Litigation

Content of Injunction:

Preliminary relief denied

Order Duration: 2022 - 2022

Issues

Reproductive rights:

Abortion

Cardiac activity legislation

Complete abortion ban

Reproductive health care (including birth control, abortion, and others)

Time-based abortion prohibition