Anti-abortion group rescinds endorsements over votes for ‘heartbeat’ law

Demonstrators who support abortion rights and others who oppose abortion display their signs in March at the Georgia Capitol in Atlanta. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

Demonstrators who support abortion rights and others who oppose abortion display their signs in March at the Georgia Capitol in Atlanta. (ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM)

A prominent Georgia anti-abortion group has rescinded its endorsements of several Republican lawmakers who voted for the state’s new “heartbeat” law, which bans the procedure in most cases when a doctor can detect fetal cardiac activity.

The group says the new law doesn’t go far enough.

Georgia Right to Life, an anti-abortion political group, accused several lawmakers last month of violating an agreement with the organization signed in 2018 to earn their endorsement, and it told the legislators that it was no longer endorsing them. Lawmakers were urged to reconsider their support of the law to restore their relationship with the group.

House Bill 481 outlaws abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy — once fetal cardiac activity is detected — and before many women know they are pregnant. Gov. Brian Kemp signed the bill in May, and the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia filed a lawsuit last month challenging the law, which is scheduled to go into effect in January.

The law allows later abortions in cases when the life of the mother is at risk, a fetus is determined to have a terminal illness, or if the mother is a victim of rape or incest and has filed a police report. Georgia Right to Life opposed most of those exceptions.

State Rep. Sheri Gilligan, a Cumming Republican who voted for the measure, said she wasn't surprised when she received the letter from the group.

“I’ve always hoped to earn their support, but when it came down to it, my conviction was that if I save one heartbeat, it’s worth it,” she said. “Is it a perfect bill? No. But I’ve never seen a perfect bill, yet. And it was as good as it was going to get.”

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In the letter, Genevieve Wilson, the director of the Georgia Right to Life Political Action Committee, told lawmakers their vote in support of the legislation violated the principles of “personhood” that were agreed upon in 2018 and the group would “discontinue” its endorsement.

Many anti-abortion activists support the concept of “personhood,” which grants rights to a fetus.

“We understand the political approach that we should ‘save as many as possible,’ or that we ‘should get what we can,’ or ‘move the ball down the field,’” Wilson wrote in the letter. “We have said that you can’t have politics as usual when dealing with human lives. Creating classes of innocent human beings that don’t receive equal justice and protection under the law is playing politics with human lives.”

Joshua Edmonds, the executive director of the anti-abortion Georgia Life Alliance, which lobbied lawmakers to vote for the legislation, said his organization plans to support those who supported the bill — which he called the “most pro-life law in Georgia history.”

“Every legislator who voted for the ‘heartbeat bill’ is a pro-life hero, and Governor Brian Kemp is a champion for life,” he said. “We are thankful for their courageous stand, and we, along with the Georgia pro-life community, unapologetically support them and will have their backs in 2020.”

The move from Georgia Right to Life comes after the group encouraged lawmakers shortly before a final House vote to oppose HB 481, saying the legislation "discriminates against classes of innocent human beings" by including the exceptions. Acworth Republican state Rep. Ed Setzler, the bill's sponsor, has said the exceptions were included as a compromise to gain support for the proposal.

In last month’s letter, Wilson asked lawmakers to read a series of Bible verses and reconsider their support for the measure.

“It is our heartfelt desire for there to be a path to restore this relationship,” Wilson wrote. “We value your willingness to serve the citizens of this great state and encourage you to contact us to discuss ways to restore our relationship.”

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