Capitol Recap: Georgia heartbeat law’s foes could be slow to act

Members of Georgia’s film industry opposed House Bill 481, the anti-abortion “heartbeat bill,” as it moved through the General Assembly earlier this year. But they may be struggling with a way to respond to the law, which will take effect Jan. 1, now that Gov. Brian Kemp has signed it.
Members of Georgia’s film industry opposed House Bill 481, the anti-abortion “heartbeat bill,” as it moved through the General Assembly earlier this year. But they may be struggling with a way to respond to the law, which will take effect Jan. 1, now that Gov. Brian Kemp has signed it.

It looks like the opposition's response to Georgia's new anti-abortion "heartbeat" law might roll out like a miniseries.

Immediate action had been expected.

As House Bill 481 progressed through Georgia's General Assembly, the spotlight turned to the state's still young but quickly growing film industry, where opponents claimed high visibility. There was talk of boycotts and other forms of protest. Producer and actress Alyssa Milano led a group of about 30 Georgia film workers to the state Capitol on the last day of the legislative session to urge Gov. Brian Kemp to veto HB 481.

It all seemed a credible threat, since the world of entertainment — through 455 film and television productions in the past fiscal year — had an economic impact on the state of $9.5 billion. Of course, the state isn't the only player in this drama that has to worry about a bottom line. IndieWire, a website devoted to the independent film industry, reported that because of the state's generous tax breaks, "Hollywood brought more dollars back from Georgia ($800 million) during the 2018 fiscal year than the New York, New Mexico and California rebates combined."

For their part, Georgia Democrats who opposed HB 481 also have skin in the game. They have actively discouraged talk of a boycott for fear of the potential impact such a move could have on several thousand union jobs in the state.

So a lot was at stake when Kemp signed the bill into law on Tuesday, and that may help explain why Hollywood was quiet.

Some of it is a matter of timing. The law does not take effect until Jan. 1, which allows time to map out a strategy.

And strategy is necessary because of the law’s complexity.

“If this were just a straight six-week abortion ban, the law on that would be clear on its face. This has so many elements to it that have been cobbled together,” said Andrea Young, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.

Supporters of HB 481 have expressed hope that it will be the piece of legislation that overturns the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion. The law's author, state Rep. Ed Setzler, said in March that it is "fundamentally different" from similar measures that suffered defeat in the courts. The difference maker is the language in HB 481 that gives a fetus "personhood status."

HB 481 is not only a ban on most abortions once a heartbeat is detected in the womb — about six weeks into a pregnancy and before many women realize they are pregnant. It also lets parents claim a 6-week-old embryo as a dependent on their taxes. The embryo is also to be counted toward the state’s population, and a court can order a father to pay child support after a heartbeat is detected.

Young said Georgia could see a decline in production of films and television shows in the coming months.

“People are not starting new projects here,” Young said. “Apple has greenlighted a project that is going to New York. They’re not going to come to Atlanta. It was a 10-episode sci-fi drama by one of the ‘X-men’ creators. These projects, to sustain the industry, have to constantly be refreshed with new projects.”

Those new projects won't be coming from writer and producer David Simon, best known for television's "The Wire." He announced on Twitter that it was time to roll the credits on his working relationship with Georgia.

“I can’t ask any female member of any film production with which I am involved to so marginalize themselves or compromise their inalienable authority over their own bodies,” Simon said. “I must undertake production where the rights of all citizens remain intact. Other filmmakers will see this.”

Other filmmakers may see it, but IndieWire’s report says an industrywide effort may not be coming:

“Sources tell IndieWire that they don’t know what a Georgia boycott could accomplish as this plays out in the courts. The ability to influence state politicians on this issue has passed. The impact would be on Hollywood itself, the vendors and crew that have relocated to the state, and its own bottom line.”

New candidate, not that one: State Sen. Renee Unterman made noises at the signing ceremony for HB 481 that fed impressions she will be leaving the General Assembly to launch a run in the 7th Congressional District.

Unterman, who shepherded the bill through the state Senate, called the measure the “culmination” of her career in the state Legislature and a lifelong goal. The state senator from Buford has been expected to join the race to replace U.S. Rep. Rob Woodall, R-Lawrenceville, but she didn’t comment when asked directly about whether she’s going to run.

Another Republican, Harrison Floyd, did announce his candidacy.

In a 30-second video, Floyd emphasized his service in Iraq as a member of the U.S. Marine Corps.

“I’ll fight socialists in Congress the same way I fought terrorists in the desert,” Floyd says in the video. “So help me God.”

The clip also shows him firing a machine gun.

That prompted criticism from Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux, who barely lost to Woodall in November and is running again.

"Violence has absolutely no place in our public discourse & I denounce this abhorrent video in the strongest possible terms," Bourdeaux said in a tweet. "This message doesn't represent GA values & for Harrison Floyd to enter this race by inciting violence is wrong. He has no place in Congress."

Floyd responded with a GIF of a tank running over protesters in Venezuela. "Socialism kills. @Carolyn4GA7, if you think socialism has any place in this country I fought to protect, then I don't think you should be in Congress," he replied.

Which issue is the issue: Before they settle the struggle for the 6th Congressional District, they may have to settle on what it's about.

Carolyn Meadows, a longtime Republican activist who lives in the east Cobb County portion of the district, has ideas about why Democrat Lucy McBath won the seat in 2018 after it had been in GOP hands for decades.

But Meadows, the newly named president of the National Rifle Association, is sure it wasn't about guns.

She advanced a theory in The Marietta Daily Journal, and later took it back, that the race "didn't have anything to do with" McBath's support for gun control.

“It had to do with being a minority female,” Meadows said. “And the Democrats really turned out, and that’s the problem we have with conservatives — we don’t turn out as well.”

McBath, who is black, became a gun control activist after her son was killed during a dispute over music. She has a different take on her victory over then-U.S. Rep. Karen Handel.

In a tweet, she wrote: Hi NRA! It's time we clear something up. I won this race because — after my son was senselessly murdered in 2012 — I stood up to do something about it. I knew it was time to fight back."

Meadows then offered an apology to McBath "and her supporters" that appeared in The Washington Post.

But it still wasn’t about guns, she said.

“My comments were insensitive and inappropriate,” Meadows said through a spokesman. “I did not intend to discredit the congresswoman or the merits of her campaign — only to reflect my view that the Second Amendment was not a prevailing factor in this election.”

A rematch, maybe more: The 13th Congressional District could soon get crowded.

U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta, and Michael Owens, the former chairman of the Cobb County Democratic Party, are renewing their primary fight from 2014.

Owens is making a case that Scott has been too friendly with Republicans, recently showing support for U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, former U.S. Rep. Mia Love and Cobb County Commission Chairman Mike Boyce.

“Those relationships aren’t bringing home the bacon,” Owens said. “What those Republican relationships are doing is making it harder for us to flip seats here in Georgia. It sows discord among those of us who are fighting the most.”

Scott has mostly played the middle since moving into Congress in 2003, brokering agreements with Republicans to advance priorities such as job training for young African-American men and aid for historically black colleges and universities. Scott backed the Keystone XL pipeline and opposed the Iran nuclear agreement, but he also opposed President Donald Trump’s effort to unwind it and has supported Democratic leaders on issues such as voting rights and food stamps.

Scott and Owens may have company in the primary. Former East Point Mayor Jannquell Peters is also considering a run.

Capitol Recap

Here's a look at some of the political and government stories that The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's staff broke online during the past week. To see more of them, go to

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