Georgia Supreme Court reinstates state’s 6-week abortion ban
ATLANTA (AP) — The Georgia Supreme Court Wednesday reinstated the state’s ban on abortions after roughly six weeks of pregnancy.
In a one-page order, the high court put a lower court ruling overturning the ban on hold while it considers an appeal. Abortion providers who had resumed performing the procedure past six weeks after the lower court ruling will again have to stop.
The order said seven of the nine justices had agreed to the decision. It said one was disqualified and another did not participate.
Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney ruled on November 15 that the state’s abortion ban was invalid because when it was signed into law in 2019, U.S. Supreme Court precedent under Roe. v. Wade and another ruling allowed abortion well past six weeks.
The decision immediately prohibited enforcement of the abortion ban statewide. Abortion providers had resumed performing the procedure past six weeks, though some said they were proceeding cautiously over concerns the ban could be quickly reinstated.
The state attorney general’s office appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court. It also asked the high court for an order putting the decision on hold while the appeal was pending.
Georgia’s ban took effect in July, after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. It prohibited most abortions once a “detectable human heartbeat” was present.
Cardiac activity can be detected by ultrasound in cells within an embryo that will eventually become the heart around six weeks into a pregnancy. That means most abortions in Georgia were effectively banned at a point before many people knew they were pregnant.
A 51-49 Senate would give Democrats an outright majority, meaning that Schumer wouldn't have to negotiate a power-sharing agreement with Republican leader Mitch McConnell. The two parties had to do that two years ago and also in 2001, the last time the Senate was evenly split.
In early 2021, confirmations of new President Joe Biden's nominees were stalled for several weeks while Schumer and McConnell worked out an agreement on how to split committees and move legislation on the Senate floor. Using the little leverage he had, McConnell threatened not to finalize a deal until Democrats promised that they wouldn't try to kill the legislative filibuster that forces a 60-vote threshold.
The Republican leader finally relented after two Democratic senators — West Virginia's Joe Manchin and Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema — made it clear they would not support such a move on the filibuster.
Committees are now evenly split between the two parties due to the 50-50 power-sharing deal. This often creates extra steps when a committee vote is tied, forcing Democrats to hold votes on the Senate floor to move ahead with bills or nominees.
Should they win an outright 51-seat majority, Democrats would likely hold an extra seat on every committee, making it much easier to move nominees or legislation on party-line votes.
Biden, a longtime senator before becoming president, acknowledged this reality after Democrats clinched 50 seats and the Senate majority.
"It's always better with 51, because we're in a situation where you don't have to have an even makeup of the committees," Biden said. "And so that's why it's important, mostly. But it's just simply better. The bigger the numbers, the better."
The extra seat would also give Democrats the ability to pass bills while losing one vote within their caucus — a luxury they haven't had over the last two years. Manchin, a moderate from conservative West Virginia, often used the narrow margin to his advantage, forcing Democrats to bend to his will on several pieces of legislation.
Manchin's opposition to Biden's sweeping health, climate and economic package stalled it for months, until Schumer negotiated a narrower version with the West Virginia senator. In the end, several of Biden's legislative priorities were left out.
That pressure could be even more acute in the next Congress, as Manchin and Sinema, a fellow moderate, are both up for reelection and will want to prove their bipartisan credentials.
With Republicans taking charge of the House majority next year, Democrats won't have much of a chance to pass major legislation. So one of Schumer's main priorities will be confirming judges nominated by Biden in the last two years of his term.
A rules change under former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., a decade ago allowed the Senate to pass judges with only a simple majority, or 51 votes. Winning Warnock's seat would make that process easier and more expedient.
"We've been able to achieve a lot, but we can do even more with additional senator," said Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the chamber and the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Senate Television via AP
The vice president has already broken 26 tied votes as vice president — twice as many as Mike Pence did in his four years in the job. Biden never broke a tie in his eight years as vice president.
The need to break tie votes requires Harris to keep close to Washington. A 51st vote would free up the vice president somewhat, allowing her to be out of town when the Senate is holding important votes.
In a speech earlier this year, Harris noted that she had broken President John Adams' record of casting the most tie-breaking votes in a single term.
"I think we should all fully appreciate how history can take a turn," Harris said.
Ben Gray/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, File
FILE - Abortion rights protesters rally near the Georgia state Capitol in Atlanta on May 14, 2022.