The photograph that state Sen. Renee Unterman posted on Instagram before Friday's debate on HB 481, the anti-abortion "heartbeat" bill.

The Jolt: A photograph and Georgia’s anti-abortion ‘heartbeat’ bill

We all know that a photograph, like everything else in life, can be a matter of interpretation.

Last Friday morning, before the marathon debate that saw Senate passage of House Bill 481, the anti-abortion “heartbeat” bill, state Sen. Renee Unterman, R-Buford, posed with the 33 Republican men who would help her pass it.

The measure, which would ban abortions after about six weeks, would make Georgia one of the hardest places in the nation to end a pregnancy. Given that the House need merely to agree to changes to the bill made on Friday, HB 481 could come up for a final vote at a moment’s notice this week.

For Unterman, the above photo that she posted on Instagram may represent a personal victory. At the outset of this legislative session, she was dumped as chairwoman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, a post she had long held.

To say she was angry doesn’t go far enough. Unterman declared herself a victim of sexual harassment, though she hasn’t mentioned it since. Switching parties was something she contemplated. “I’ve thought about it,” Unterman said in January. “I agree with them on a lot of social issues.

“And yet I’m a gun-toter. I’m a hunter. I’m a fisherman. I’m pro-life. I’ve carried every single abortion bill that’s gone through the Senate,” she said.

Unterman carried HB 481 on Friday, having passed it out of the Senate Science and Technology Committee, which she now chairs. She was essential to Friday’s debate, being the only Republican woman in the chamber. (State Sen. Kay Kirkpatrick, R-Marietta, had been excused all day for a funeral.)

“We are not like New York or Virginia,” Unterman said, opening Friday’s debate. “We will not throw away children who aren’t perfect because all children are perfect in the eyes of God.”

Because Unterman had considered herself estranged from her GOP caucus, the photograph, in a way, becomes proof of her readmission to the club. “I appreciate the support of my fellow Republican senators on this Friday morning. It’s an honor to join the @gasenategop in serving our great state,” she wrote in the caption.

Many Republicans saw no irony in the female-to-male ratio: “The men behind the woman protecting the babies,” was the Twitter message from Tim Echols, a member of the state Public Service Commission.

Democrats were of a different mind: “Here’s the elite policy team bringing you Georgia’s new abortion ban in defiance of medical expertise and Roe v Wade,” wrote Jon Ossoff, the former congressional candidate, via the same medium.

***

Some delicate footwork was on display during U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris’ visit to Georgia on Sunday, her first since she announced her campaign for president. 

At a service at Ebenezer Baptist Church and later a rally at Morehouse College, she was feted by some of the state’s most prominent Democrats: Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, Jon Ossoff and others.

And yet, while they showered her with praise, no endorsements were forthcoming from those figures. The highest-profile official to bestow her with his blessing was state Rep. Erick Allen, a first-term Democrat from a Cobb County-based district.

Still, several inched right up to the line: Johnson, for one, hinted strongly which candidate he was leaning toward.

“Isn’t it time for a woman to finally break through the glass ceiling of leadership? To be the most powerful politician in the free world?” he said, to cheers from the crowd of 3,000 or so. “She has stood tall as a vocal and determined fighter for all people." 

Ossoff, the former 6th District candidate, received an ear-splitting ovation when he squared his attacks on President Donald Trump.

“We need Georgia’s young people to make a statement at the ballot box in 2020,” he said. “There is too much at stake to sit it out.”

There are plenty of reasons for the hesitancy, chief among them a crowded field of candidates that still hasn’t solidified. Another one: Stacey Abrams, the queenmaker in Georgia Democratic politics, still hasn’t ruled out a bidRead more about the visit here.

***

At the Ebenezer service, Kamala Harris also offered a dig at former Vice President Joe Biden and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont -- two white male septuagenarians at the center of 2020 presidential talk. Comparing the party’s leadership to a relay race, she said, for “the older leaders, it also becomes a question of ‘Let’s also know when to pass the baton.’”

***

With Attorney General Bill Barr’s judgment, issued Sunday, that the report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller has cleared President Donald Trump of collusion with Russia during his 2016 presidential campaign, the controversy doesn’t end -- but is downgraded to a paper chase.

On Sunday, U.S. Rep. Doug Collins followed House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., on Fox News Sunday. Said Collins;

“It’s not the Department of Justice’s job to give Chairman Nadler and the House Judiciary Committee or any committee in the House, or the Senate, for that matter, what they want to do, to go off on a purely partisan investigation that may lead toward impeachment.”

***

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms had a tart response on Twitter to the visit last week by Vice President Mike Pence, who blasted her decision last year to bar the city jail from holding federal immigration detainees. Wrote Bottoms: “Thank you for the confirmation that we did the right thing.”

***

This may fall into the dog-bites-man category of non-news, but wealthy people are getting special treatment, according to the Brunswick News:

The Sea Island Company called its shot on language essentially exempting the island from the Shore Protection Act under House Bill 445, and, according to state Department of Natural Resources staff, its standard operating procedure.

Indeed, the Sea Island carve-out, presently listed in lines 84-89, wasn’t part of the bill as it was envisioned at the beginning of the 2019 session.

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