A surprise bid to undercut the clout of Georgia Right to Life

On Friday, behind a closed door in Washington, an upstart group with substantial but unstated political backing back home will ask the National Right to Life organization to discard Georgia Right to Life — the most powerful anti-abortion force in the state Capitol — as one of its 50 state affiliates.

It’s a bold power play that involves the current Republican race for the U.S. Senate, a threatened Democratic resurgence in Georgia, and GRTL’s insistent refusal to recognize incest and rape as exceptions to its blanket condemnation of abortion.

Candidates who disagree with the Georgia chapter’s uncompromising position that abortion is acceptable only when the life of the mother is at stake do not win GRTL’s stamp of approval.

The same goes for legislation, whether state or federal. Even if that legislation is backed by GRTL’s parent organization, National Right to Life.

GRTL “has been willing to say we cannot support the killing of any class of human being because of their conception mode,” said unapologetic spokesman Mike Griffin, who pointed to his group’s success in Georgia since 2002 as evidence that an unconditional approach is politically viable.

“They say the proof is in the pudding. There’s a lot of pudding here,” Griffin said. “Which begs the question, why the challenge?”

One likely answer: Many Republican critics worry that such absolutism will become a liability as the state makes its slow but relentless demographic march back to Democratic parity.

GRTL President Dan Becker, who set the Georgia chapter on its independent course, has posted the following on his group’s website: “Pray that pro-lifers in Georgia and nationwide will stand strong and not be misled by watered-down efforts just for the sake of politics."

Carol Tobias, the president of National Right to Life, on Wednesday confirmed the bid to oust GRTL through a spokesman. The final decision will be made Saturday by a 58-member NRL board of directors — representing 50 state chapters, including the GRTL, plus eight at-large members.

An initial presentation will be made Friday evening to a credentials committee by Emily Matson, a Rome attorney representing a group called Georgia Life Alliance.

It was formed two weeks ago.

“We are challenging because we believe Georgia Life Alliance can and will more effectively carry out and achieve goals and objectives of National Right to Life than Georgia Right to Life, Inc., is currently doing,” reads the letter from Matson to GRTL, giving notice.

Also listed as GLA officers are Kristin Radtke of Suwanee, a former staffer for the Family Research Council, and Lance Cooper, a one-time GOP candidate for the state Senate from west Cobb County. Cooper is the attorney who recently forced General Motors to recall hundreds of thousands of vehicles with faulty ignition systems.

Beyond that, Matson is not ready to say who’s behind the group.

“There’s a long list of people who want to participate in this. It’s not just one person supporting one candidate,” she said in a telephone interview.

“I know that the people behind us believe that life begins at conception. How we are going to phrase that exactly, I’m not prepared to tell you,” Matson said. “Every move we make to protect life is a good move.”

That last point is important — and an allusion to last year’s NRL-backed bill to prohibit women from seeking an abortion after a pregnancy has progressed 20 weeks.

Georgia had passed a version of the bill a year earlier, but without exceptions for rape or incest — at GRTL’s insistence. But House Republicans moved the federal bill only after the exceptions were added. Doing otherwise, they feared, would exacerbate their national party’s well-documented problem with female voters.

Of the three House members in the GOP race for the Senate, only Paul Broun of Athens sided with GRTL, which opposed the legislation. Broun’s photo is now displayed prominently on the GRTL website as the only candidate endorsed by the group.

Jack Kingston of Savannah and Phil Gingrey of Marietta voted yes. Another Senate candidate, former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, has a well-known history with GRTL.

In 2010, as a candidate for governor, Handel refused to concede on the rape-and-incest issue, and she also expressed doubts about GRTL’s efforts in the state Capitol to restrict in vitro fertilization procedures.

But Republican candidates who have issues with GRTL have been silent when it comes to this latest development. Clearly, some are waiting until Saturday to see whether the dynamics of abortion politics in Georgia are about to change.

Others are already lining up behind GRTL and its leadership. Tim Echols, a member of the Public Service Commission, called Becker “a courageous state and national leader” who has altered the way Republican candidates approach the abortion issue.

“I hope those who are trying to displace Dan and Georgia Right to Life realize the grave responsibility state organizations have in educating the public, lobbying officials and changing the culture,” Echols said.

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.

About the Author

Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway
Jim Galloway is a three-decade veteran of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who writes the Political Insider blog and column.