Miami (AFP) - The governor of the US state of Georgia on Tuesday signed into law a ban on abortion from the moment a fetal heartbeat is detected -- one of the most restrictive such laws in the country.
The signing makes Georgia the sixth US state to enact a law banning abortion after six weeks of gestation, despite adverse court rulings and a welter of legal challenges.
"We protect the innocent, we champion the vulnerable, we stand up and speak for those unable to speak for themselves," Governor Brian Kemp said before signing the law.
"We will allow precious babies to grow up and realize their full, God-given potential," he said. "Today is just the beginning."
The American Civil Liberties Union denounced the law.
"This bill has Big Government criminalizing the most intimate decision women and couples make and flies in the face of 50 years of US Supreme Court precedent," said Andrea Young, head of the ACLU's Georgia chapter.
Anti-abortion activists hope the state-by-state legal battles will ensure the so-called "heartbeat" ban is brought before the US Supreme Court, where conservative justices hold sway.
That could put to the test the top US court's landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which guarantees the right to abortion.
By a 7-2 vote, that more liberal court found that a woman's right to choose an abortion was protected by the privacy rights guaranteed under the 14th amendment of the US Constitution.
The challenge to it comes as US President Donald Trump is ramping up for a 2020 re-election campaign with abortion as a hot-button issue.
"Heartbeat" laws similar to Georgia's have been passed by Ohio, Mississippi, Kentucky, Iowa and North Dakota.
Other states, including electoral powerhouses Florida and Texas, are considering following suit.
All the state bans have either been blocked by a judge or are headed for the courts.