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Abortion-rights lawyers seek injunction against Georgia's 'heartbeat bill'

ATLANTA — Opponents of a Georgia law that bans most abortions asked a judge on Tuesday to keep it from taking effect while their legal challenge plays out.

The law is set to become enforceable Jan. 1. Lawyers with the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights sued on behalf of Georgia advocacy groups and abortion providers last month to challenge the measure.

A spokeswoman for the state attorney general's office, which is defending the law, declined to comment on Tuesday's filing, citing the pending litigation. Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, acknowledged when he signed the law in May that it would likely face legal challenges but said the state wouldn't back down.

The so-called heartbeat law bans abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can occur as early as six weeks, before many women know they're pregnant. It's one of a spate 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.

The Georgia legislation makes exceptions in the case of rape and incest, if the woman files a police report first. It also allows for abortions when the life of the woman is at risk or when a fetus is determined not to be viable because of a serious medical condition.

Additionally, it declares an embryo or fetus a "natural person" once cardiac activity can be detected, saying that is the point where "the full value of a child begins."

The court filing Tuesday argues that viability, or the likelihood that a fetus can survive outside the womb, doesn't occur until several months into a pregnancy. That means Georgia's law directly contradicts the precedent set by the Supreme Court, which "has repeatedly and unequivocally held that a state may not ban abortion at any point prior to viability," the filing says.

"This case is pretty straightforward," ACLU of Georgia legal director Sean Young said at a news conference. "This law is blatantly unconstitutional under 50 years of Supreme Court precedent, and we are eagerly hoping that the judge will act before January."

Dr. Lisa Haddad, one of the plaintiffs, said at the news conference that the law could damage the trust between women and doctors and hinder women's access to vital treatment.

"How will Georgia's women of child-bearing age be able to obtain the health care they need and deserve when this law could prevent doctors like me from providing patient-centered, evidence-based medicine that we have gone to school to practice and provide?" she said.

Louisiana , Kentucky , Mississippi and Ohio have passed similar "heartbeat" bills. Missouri's governor signed a bill approving a ban on abortion at eight weeks, with exceptions only for medical emergencies.

A new Alabama law bans virtually all abortions, even in cases of rape or incest, and makes performing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy a felony punishable by 10 to 99 years or life in prison for the provider.

None of the bans has taken effect, and abortion remains legal in every state. Some of the laws have already been blocked, and courts are expected to put the others on hold as they consider legal challenges.