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Federal judge from Athens blocks Georgia's 'heartbeat' abortion law

U.S. District Judge Steve C. Jones

By Joe Johnson

The federal judge who on Tuesday blocked Georgia’s controversial ban on abortions from going into effect four months from now was Athens native Steve C. Jones.

The so-called heartbeat law, signed by Gov. Brian Kemp in May, is one of the nation's most restrictive measures, outlawing abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy, when a fetal heartbeat can be first detected.

The law was strongly opposed by civil liberties and women’s rights groups because many women are not even aware that they are pregnant at six weeks.

The American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights sued state officials in June to block the legislation from taking effect in January.

"By banning pre-viability abortions, H.B. 481 violates the constitutional right to privacy, which, in turn, inflicts per se irreparable harm on Plaintiffs," Jones wrote in his opinion.

Jones, who presides over federal cases in the U.S. Northern District of Georgia, cited in his ruling such U.S. Supreme Court abortion precedents as Roe v. Wade, which legalized pre-viability abortion nationwide, and Casey v. Planned Parenthood, which deemed laws placing an "undue burden" on abortion seekers unconstitutional.

"The Supreme Court has repeatedly and unequivocally held that a State may not ban abortion prior to viability," Jones wrote, adding that "By prohibiting abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected, months before the point of viability, Section 4 of H.B. 481 does exactly that."

Jones was born and raised in Athens, where he earned both his bachelor’s and law degrees at the University of Georgi.

The Cedar Shoals High School graduate spent most of his legal career at the Athens-Clarke County Courthouse, serving as assistant district attorney and Municipal and Superior Court judge.

A 1987 graduate of Georgia Law, Jones was nominated by President Barack Obama and sworn in as judge for the Northern District of Georgia in 2011. In this role, he presides over cases that involve the U.S. government, the Constitution, federal laws and controversies between citizens of different states, among other matters.

While serving as Superior Court judge in the Western Judicial Circuit of Georgia from 1995 to 2011, Jones presided over the Felony Drug Court Program for Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties in addition to his regular caseload.

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