Georgia lawmakers clash in a high-stakes debate over abortion 

Pay attention to an uncertain debate to be settled tonight in the House: the fight over abortion legislation.

First, let’s set the stage. Gov. Brian Kemp has vowed to pass the nation’s toughest abortion restrictions during last year’s campaign, and enters office owing a debt to conservatives who got him there.

An ally, state Rep. Ed Setzler, has filed a measure to ban abortion as soon as a doctor can detect a heartbeat - as soon as six weeks. Kemp, meanwhile, publicly backed a separate measure for a “trigger bill” that would restrict abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court outlaws it.

» Live: Use AJC tracker to follow Georgia bills

» Photos: Crossover Day at the Georgia Legislature

His measure was seen as a way to sidestep a thornier abortion debate, one that would energize his core supporters but also guarantee a lengthy legal fight and risk alienating suburban women.

That was until a House committee meeting that stretched hours on Wednesday. Our AJC colleague Maya Prabhu was there, and reported that Setzler’s bill was approved - and Kemp’s favored measure tabled.

So what happens now?

Kemp also supports the “heartbeat” bill - one of his House deputies was the second signature on it - and he might move aggressively to embrace it. Members of the committee were said to have received a flurry of texts from Kemp’s team urging them to pass the bill.

Democrats are rallying against it, promising a drawn-out legal battle if it passes -- much like the backlash over a similar law in Iowa that was declared unconstitutional.

And some are passing out hangers to Republican lawmakers, an infamous symbol of self-induced abortions – a step they warn these new restrictions could force women to take. 

State Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero (left), D - Norcross, brought coat hangers into the House to show opposition to HB 481, which would toughen restrictions on abortions. Bob Andres /
Photo: Bob Andres/

A parade of Democrats took the floor of the House this morning to offer prayers for women who seek abortions, for the doctors who provide them and for women who died in the past when abortions were illegal.

“Today we ask for blessings for all women who pass through hostile protests at abortion clinics,” said state Rep. Park Cannon, D-Atlanta. “May they stand tall and refuse to be shamed.”

Some Republicans also spoke about abortion, but with a different agenda.

“Today I rise to pray for the millions of unborn that have been killed over the years, the lives that have been ended by the practice of abortion,” said state Rep. Josh Bonner of Fayetteville. “May God have mercy on them and may God have mercy on us.” 

The biggest question, though, may be whether House Speaker David Ralston wants to bring it to a vote.

After a wave of Republican defeats in Atlanta’s suburbs last year, he talked of wanting to do more to insulate vulnerable House GOP incumbents. This vote could test that promise.

Insider’s note: This item was ripped and expanded from the Daily Jolt. 

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.