A US federal judge has temporarily blocked a strict new abortion bill in the state of Georgia that would have banned terminations as early as six weeks into pregnancy.
The bill, signed in May by Republican Governor Brian Kemp, was scheduled to become law on 1 January.
A group of civil rights groups, doctors and clinics sued state officials in June in an attempt to block it.
The governor’s office said it was reviewing the decision.
The so-called “heartbeat bill” seeks to make abortion illegal as soon as a foetal heartbeat can be detected. In most cases that is around the six-week mark of a pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant.
The bill allows for exceptions in some circumstances, including pregnancies by rape or incest, a medical risk to the mother’s life, or when the foetus is determined to have a serious medical condition.
Georgia was among a number of Republican-led states that passed stricter abortion legislation this year, but none of the new laws has yet taken effect amid legal challenges.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights collectively filed a constitutional challenge to stop the legislation from becoming law, calling it an “affront to the dignity and health of Georgians”.
US District Judge Steve Jones cited the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v Wade decision, which legalised abortion prior to viability. Judge Jones argues that Georgia’s proposed law contravened the landmark Supreme Court decision because a foetal heartbeat can be detected months before the point of viability.
The Supreme Court, he wrote, had “repeatedly and unequivocally held that a state may not ban abortion” prior to that point. The challenge to the new law was likely to succeed, he said, adding that the current legislation should remain in effect for the time being.
Reacting to the decision, Sean Young, legal director of the ACLU of Georgia, said: “This case has always been about one thing: letting her decide… Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but every woman is entitled to her own decision.”
Candice Broce, a spokeswoman for Governor Kemp, said the authorities “remain[ed] confident”, adding: “We will continue to fight for the unborn and work to ensure that all Georgians have the opportunity to live, grow, and prosper.”
A number of media giants had said they would reconsider filming in Georgia, a popular destination for Hollywood producers because of its generous tax breaks, if the new law was enacted. They included Disney, Netflix and WarnerMedia.
Meanwhile, stars including Amy Schumer, Ben Stiller, Christina Applegate, Laverne Cox and Alec Baldwin wrote to the governor in March saying they would “do everything in our power to move our industry to a safer state for women”.