June 6, 2019 Gwinnett County- State Senator Renee Unterman addresses the crowd during the announcement of her congressional bid on Thursday, June 6, 2019 in Buford, Georgia. Unterman will campaign to represent Georgia's seventh congressional district, and is running as a pro-life Republican. She strongly supported the passage of Georgia's heartbeat bill.(Christina Matacotta/christina.matacotta@ajc.com)
Photo: Christina Matacotta
Photo: Christina Matacotta

Unterman announces bid for 7th District amid ‘heartbeat’ law debate

State Sen. Renee Unterman officially announced her campaign for Georgia’s 7th Congressional District in downtown Buford on Thursday, entering the race for the competitive open seat.

Unterman enters the race less than three months after shepherding the controversial “heartbeat bill,” which bans abortions once cardiac activity is detected in a fetus, through the Georgia Senate. But she did not focus on that legislation in her announcement, instead hammering home her deep Gwinnett County roots and proclaiming she wants to focus on “kitchen table issues” like health care reform, the national debt and transportation. 

Unterman, a former nurse, said in her speech that she would advocate for a “patient-centered” health care system with greater price transparency and protect those with pre-existing medical conditions. 

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After her announcement, she said she was not defined solely by her stance on abortion, but that she realizes she will likely be involved in what has become a “national conversation” on the issue.

The heartbeat bill was signed into law in May, and opponents have since protested and promised lawsuits. Multiple entertainment companies have said they may stop filming projects in Georgia if the law takes effect — unless a court intervenes, that will be in January 2020. Supporters have hailed the law as a step toward overturning Roe vs. Wade, a 1973 Supreme Court decision that declared women had the right to have an abortion.

About 10 protesters carrying pro-abortion rights signs stood on the periphery of the outdoor amphitheatre where Unterman launched her campaign. The nine-term state senator only briefly alluded to her long-held anti-abortion stance in her Thursday speech, saying she wants to promote “a culture that honors life.”

“I laid a lot of skin on the ground on that one,” Unterman said.

Supporters at the campaign launch praised Unterman as an open accessible legislator. Mark and Edye Hunter, who live next door to Unterman, often unexpectedly run into her at zoning meetings and community events, and feel that Unterman has represented them in an honest way.

“She’s not hiding out or voting for public opinion. She’s voting on morals,” Mark Hunter said.

“And that’s how her constituents want her to vote,” Edye Hunter said.

Those at the rally were supportive of Unterman’s work on the heartbeat bill, saying the passage of less restrictive abortion laws in other states made the timing appropriate. Peg Murray, a Lawrenceville resident and longtime Unterman supporter, said she recognized it could pose a challenge in Unterman’s congressional bid if she were to make it to the general election.

“It’s controversial, and I am sure it will be one of the biggest challenges she will face because there will be opponents,” Murray said. “But because of the kinds of laws that have been promulgated in New York and Virginia, it seemed like he right time to pass it.”

Unterman joins an already crowded race, with five other Republicans and five Democrats vying for the seat. The 7th Distirict, previously a Republican stronghold, was decided by fewer than 500 votes in 2018. U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall narrowly won re-election against Democratic challenger Carolyn Bourdeaux, who is mounting another bid for the seat. Woodall announced at the beginning of his latest term that he would not run for re-election in 2020.

Unterman jumped right into the fray, taking a jab at fellow candidate Lynne Homrich, who recently moved to Duluth from the neighboring 6th Congressional District and previously lived in Atlanta. 

“They used to move here from Atlanta for the schools,” Unterman said. “Now, they move from Buckhead to run for Congress.”

Unterman’s announcement came on the same day that multiple Democratic presidential candidates were visiting Atlanta. She took the opportunity to draw contrast between them and herself while emphasizing her conservative bonafides. 

“They are offering their vision for America, their vision of socialism,” Unterman said. “I offer myself as an alternative to that vision.” 

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Several district attorneys in metro Atlanta say they would not prosecute women for getting an abortion. DeKalb DA Sherry Boston: “As a woman and mother, I am concerned about the passage and attempted passage of laws such as this one in Georgia ... and other states.” Gwinnett DA Danny Porter: “As a matter of law this office will not be prosecuting any women under the new law as long as I’m district attorney.” Cobb Acting DA John Melvin: Women would “absolutely not” be prosecuted under the unlawful abortion

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