Rogers helps get abortion bill out of Special Judiciary, sparks questions

Don’t call Chip Rogers a hawk.

But that didn’t stop opponents of a controversial abortion bill from chirping about the Senate majority leader’s presence at a Special Judiciary meeting and his subsequent vote to help it pass out of committee.

SB 529 would make it a criminal act for a medical provider to “coerce” a woman into having an abortion, because of the “race, color or gender of the unborn child.”

Rogers, who is not a member of Special Judiciary, voted as an “ex-officio” member of the committee. Sen. Tommie Williams (R-Lyons) was also listed as an “ex-officio,” but was out of the room during the vote.

“Ex-officio members have been used for decades to make sure you have a quorum. We used it for a committee last week,” said Rogers of Woodstock. “It is necessary when you don’t have enough members to vote.”

Rogers stressed that what he was doing was common practice, especially in the last weeks of the session leading up to Crossover Day. He said he was not playing the hawk role, which was a former staple of the House.

Introduced by former Republican House Speaker Glenn Richardson, hawks were House members -- generally members of the GOP -- who could swoop in and vote in any committee. House Speaker David Ralston ended the practice when he was elected during this session.

Sen. Donzella James (D-College Park) was the only Democrat on the committee to show up. And she said that she was "coerced" into coming with a promise that her bill -- which would toughen the laws on repeat burglary offenders -- would be heard in the committee.

"Chairman [John] Wiles told me my bill was on so that he could get a quorum. They got me over here because they needed my presence," said James, adding that a meeting agenda was never posted. "Don't waste my time and don't waste time and money on a bill that is already covered."

After the abortion bill, the committee immediately adjourned as James waved her bill, asking for a hearing.

Wiles (R-Kennesaw) noted that at an earlier Judiciary meeting, eight bills were lost because there was not a quorum.

“Chip and Tommie just provided a quorum,” Wiles said.  “The votes were for the bill anyway. It would have passed without Senator Rogers.”

But Robbin Shipp of Planned Parenthood said the whole thing looked messy.

“I was disappointed by the whole process of this legislation,” Shipp said. “I am dismayed in this day and age that there would be an attempt like this to interfere with a woman’s right to choose, with covert legislation.”

Underneath all of the political intrigue -- real and perceived -- is a bill that could have major ramifications if it gets out of the Rules Committee and onto the full Senate floor.

Supporters of the bill say that in 2008, black women in Georgia had twice as many abortions as white women and are convinced that they are being targeted. Opponents say the bill is an attempt to mislead the public about abortions.

“This legislation addresses the issue of sex and race, and that is a faulty premise,” Shipp said. “African-American women are fully equipped to make decisions based on conversations with their family and faith leaders. This legislation has far-reaching constitutional implications. It is troublesome on a lot of different levels.”

But Catherine Davis, director of minority outreach of Georgia Right to Life, said that in 2008, nearly 19,000 black women got abortions in the state. White women accounted for 8,523 abortions during that same period.

“African-Americans account for 30 percent of the population in Georgia but make up 59 percent of the abortions,” Davis said. “The black community is being targeted by abortionists. The abortion industry wants us to believe that we have a greater need. Why should an abortion doctor be able to take a baby because it is black?”