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No, a new Georgia governor could not solely overturn the controversial 'heartbeat law'

Verify sources confirm Georgia's governor does not have sole power to repeal a law already on the books, but the governor does have influence.

ATLANTA — As the race for Georgia governor heats up, 11Alive viewer Jenna emailed the VERIFY team wanting to know whether the outcome could affect the state's controversial heartbeat law.

THE QUESTION

Could a new Georgia governor overturn the controversial "heartbeat" law?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

This is false.

Georgia's governor does not have sole power to overturn any law that is already enacted.

WHAT WE FOUND

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed the "heartbeat law" in 2019, banning abortions around six weeks in most cases. The controversial law was then stuck in legal limbo for years.

But now that it's in effect, some of you are asking whether a new governor could overturn it?

Our VERIFY sources confirm Georgia's governor does not have sole power to repeal a law already on the books.

"The governor has no legal authority over laws already passed," Professor Eric Segall said. 

Professor Fred Smith agreed, but said a governor who wished to oppose the law would have some options at their disposal. 

"The governor wouldn't be able to invalidate the law overnight, but there are a few things the governor could do," Smith said. "The governor could appoint justices to the state Supreme Court who would protect the longstanding right to privacy." 

Such appointments can carry impact when it comes to litigation over the law. 

"How receptive judges are to arguments involving abortion, of course is going to be a big factor going forward," Segall said. "And to the extent the new governor gets to appoint new judges, absolutely, that could affect state of law in Georgia when it comes to abortion."

In addition, the governor also has veto power over new bills, a power which could come into play if state lawmakers tried to pass a more restrictive abortion law.

"So if there were moves made to ban abortion outright or ban Plan B (pill) for example, a governor could veto a law of that sort," Smith said. 

According to our source, if Stacey Abrams is elected, veto power could also be a political tool when working with Republicans. 

"To the extent the Republican Party in Georgia wants to get things done with a Democratic governor, they may have to make some compromises going forward, including on abortion," Segall explained. "And I think that's probably her biggest tool. You want me not to veto your laws, then she could put pressure on them to repeal the Georgia abortion law and perhaps pass a less restrictive law." 

In summary, the process is complicated. While it's false that a Georgia governor has the power to unilaterally overturn the "heartbeat law," the governor does have influence to potentially impact the law or future versions of it. 

"The new governor will not be able to veto any law, much less the abortion law that is currently on the books," Segall said. "The Georgia Constitution prescribes that the governor can veto bills that come to their desks before they are passed. But once they are enacted, the current governor is stopped."

 

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