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Republican Gov. Brian Kemp said Tuesday that he is upholding his promise to enact “toughest abortion bill in the country” in Georgia. Kemp signed a controversial “heartbeat” bill into law Tuesday morning, outlawing most abortions once a doctor detects what some call “a fetal heartbeat in the womb,” usually about six weeks into a pregnancy.

His signature could launch a court battle that supporters hope will challenge abortion rights all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“Georgia is a state that values life,” Kemp said before putting his signature to the Life Act. “We stand up for those who are unable to speak for themselves.”

Kemp said he recognizes the bill will be challenged.

“But our job is to do what is right, not what is easy,” Kemp added. “We will not back down. We will always continue to fight for life.”

The bill has been called draconian by Democrats, medical lobbies and civil rights organizations along with women’s rights leaders and celebrities who have opposed the measure and protested the bill for months.

Georgia is the fourth state to enact such legislation in 2019. Similar “heartbeat” bills are in the works in 10 other states — Missouri, Tennessee, Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, South Carolina and West Virginia — according to the Guttmacher Institute. A federal judge has already blocked Kentucky’s law. Other courts struck down similar laws that were recently enacted in Iowa and North Dakota.

What’s in the bill

With two new conservative justices on the Supreme Court, those against abortion want to test the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion.

Doctors who oppose the legislation, however, say what appears to be a heartbeat at six weeks is simply a vibration of developing tissues that could not exist without the mother. Georgia law previously banned abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

Like some other versions, Georgia’s law includes exceptions for incest, rape and situations of medical futility or where the health of the mother is at stake.

Unlike the others, Georgia’s says a fetus is a “natural person” and “human being” once a heartbeat is detected.

Setting up a court battle

The American Civil Liberties Union and other critics have vowed they will bring a lawsuit targeting the legislation — and promised electoral payback as well.

In a statement responding to Kemp’s signing the ban, Talcott Camp, deputy director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said: “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. 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.”

State Sen. Renee Unterman, who pushed the bill through the state Senate, called the bill the “culmination of my political career.”

Abortion rights activists say six-week bans — which have been struck down by at least two courts as unconstitutional — are part of a deliberate strategy to pass increasingly radical laws in the hopes of getting the issue before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Leana Wen, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said would be filing a lawsuit to stop the Georgia bill from going into effect.

“The bill signed by Governor Kemp bans abortions before many women even know that they are pregnant. It is so extreme that it criminalizes doctors who provide life-saving care, and it even allows the state to investigate women for having miscarriages,” Wen said.

Protesters at the state Capitol

“The Handmaid Coalition of Georgia” marched to the statehouse to protest the legislation, chanting “shame” and “dissent” while clad in the red cloaks and white bonnets of characters in “The Handmaid’s Tale,” a book and TV series that depicts a dystopian future where women are enslaved to rear children. The protesters have been an almost daily presence, along with heavy security.

The #ReclaimGeorgia campaign by NARAL Pro-Choice Georgia and Planned Parenthood Southeast Advocates aims to spend six figures to mobilize activists and “put unprecedented pressure” on supporters of the measure ahead of next year’s election.

Laura Simmons, the NARAL state director, said it’s designed to “educate voters and put lawmakers on notice that advocates for reproductive freedom will not let legislators off the hook for turning their backs on women and families by voting to criminalize abortion and punish women.”

The bill made national headlines after actress and women’s rights activist Alyssa Milano hand-delivered a letter to Kemp’s office last month to protest the “heartbeat bill.” The letter was signed by 50 celebrities who vowed to boycott the state, which has a growing television industry, if the bill was signed into law.

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