‘My plan is to wait to see.’ Columbus DA won’t say if he’d prosecute abortion ban cases

Mike Haskey/mhaskey@ledger-enquirer.com
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While district attorneys representing several of Georgia’s largest cities have said they would not prosecute cases under the state’s abortion ban if it takes effect, Stacey Jackson is not one of them.

Jackson, who serves as the top prosecutor for the region that includes Columbus, told the Ledger-Enquirer that he would not make a decision until the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals issued its decision on a state law that would effectively ban abortion after an embryo’s cardiac activity is detected.

“I don’t want to comment at this time because the law hasn’t taken effect,” he said. “Once that litigation is over and a decision has been made (then) we’ll have to make a decision on what the codified law is. ...Since there is litigation I don’t want to comment on a potential hypothetical. My plan is to wait to see what happens.”

When asked if Jackson would prosecute cases if the appellate court upholds Georgia’s ban, Jackson again said he wouldn’t comment on a hypothetical.

“There’s no decision to be made at this stage because litigation is still ongoing,” he said.

Jackson, a Harris County native, is the District Attorney for the Chattahoochee Judicial district, which covers Chattahoochee, Harris, Marion, Muscogee, Talbot and Taylor counties. He was appointed to the post by Gov. Brian Kemp in April to replace former DA Mark Jones, who resigned after pleading guilty to misconduct in office.

DAs around Georgia who won’t prosecute

District Attorneys representing the cities of Augusta, Athens and Savannah have pledged they would not prosecute cases under Georgia’s ban following the Supreme Court decision that overturned Roe v. Wade last week, the Augusta Chronicle reports.

“I will not be complacent in a system attempting to strip away the rights of American citizens,” Athens’ Western Judicial Circuit DA Deborah Gonzalez said in a released statement.

Several District Attorneys in the metro Atlanta area have also said they would not prosecute cases, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. They include Fulton County DA Fani Willis, Clayton County DA Tasha Mosely, Cobb County DA Flynn Broady and DeKalb County DA Sherry Boston. Gwinnett County DA Patsy Austin-Gatson said she would prosecute on a case-by-case basis.

Georgia’s abortion ban explained

Under Georgia’s LIFE (Living Infants Fairness and Equality) Act, abortions are effectively banned once an embryo’s cardiac activity is detected, typically at six weeks.

The law includes exceptions for rape and incest if the pregnancy is fewer than 20 weeks along and a police report has been filed. An abortion can also be performed if a physician determines that a medical emergency exists or the pregnancy is “medically futile.”

Georgia’s abortion law also includes personhood language that gives embryos legal status.

Kemp signed the bill into law in 2019. But the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia ruled the law was unconstitutional in 2020, blocking it from taking effect.

The state appealed the ruling in 2021 to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. The court postponed its decision until the Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Abortion Clinic over Mississippi’s abortion ban.

The appellate court on Friday asked attorneys from both parties in the case to file briefs addressing how the overturning of Roe affects the Georgia case. They have roughly three weeks to file, according to court records.

If the law takes effect, the AJC reports that DAs could potentially seek a murder charge due to the technical language of Georgia’s ban.

However, Republican state Rep. Ed Setzler told the newspaper that isn’t the intent. Instead, those who are pregnant, doctors, nurses and pharmacists could be prosecuted under Georgia’s criminal abortion statute, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Setlzer was the LIFE Act’s lead sponsor.

Georgia law currently allows abortions at 20 weeks of gestation or about 22 weeks since the patient’s last menstrual period. Abortions after this period are only allowed in cases of life endangerment or if there is a lethal fetal anomaly.

You can contact the Chattahoochee Judicial District Attorney’s office at 100 10th St., Columbus, Georgia 31901. The phone number is 706 - 653 - 4336.