Abortion a central theme in Georgia attorney general debate

Credit: Maya T. Prabhu

Credit: Maya T. Prabhu

The Republican incumbent attorney general and his Democratic opponent continued their public dispute over the office’s role in the enforcement of Georgia’s abortion law — and what it does.

For months Jen Jordan, a Democratic state senator from Atlanta, has said she would not spend state resources defending the law legislators passed in 2019. The law bans most abortions once a doctor can detect fetal cardiac activity, which is typically at about six weeks into pregnancy and before many know they are pregnant. Jordan says the law violates the right to privacy protected under the Georgia Constitution.

Incumbent Chris Carr has called Jordan’s position a dereliction of duty and says it is the job of the office to defend the state’s laws, even when the person in the job doesn’t think they are constitutional.

“The job of the attorney general, (according to the state) constitution and statute, is to uphold the laws of this state,” he said during the Atlanta Press Club’s Loudermilk-Young Debate Series.

Jordan, a trial attorney, said it’s an attorney general’s responsibility to serve as a check on the executive branch.

“I believe in enforcing all state laws, but my primary obligation is to enforce our state’s constitution,” she said. “That’s the oath that I took as a lawyer and as an elected official.”

Carr, who was appointed in 2016 and is seeking his second full term in office, is being challenged by Jordan and Libertarian Martin Cowen. Cowen has also said he supported the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which allowed abortions up until the fetus could survive on its own.

The candidates also disagreed on whether state law allows prosecutors to investigate and charge pregnant women who seek abortions. Georgia’s law specifically shields women from prosecution, instead targeting medical providers who could face up to 10 years in prison for performing the procedure after the law allows.

But still up for interpretation are the “personhood” provisions included in Georgia’s law that grant rights to an embryo in the womb at any stage of development. Jordan said the law leaves women vulnerable to prosecution.

“When we think about the homicide statute, the manslaughter statute, even the child abuse statute, all of that would actually apply to an embryo,” she said. “And to a pregnant woman — if she were to harm the embryo and actually, maybe, cause herself to have a miscarriage — it’s ridiculous to say that this law does not let a prosecutor go after a woman because it’s clear that it does.”

Carr disagreed, saying that courts consider the intent of the Legislature when laws are made and it was not the intent of the law to arrest women.

“The senator is wrong,” he said. “She also knows that there’s nothing in this bill that talks about what she just said. ... I’m protecting the women of this state from human trafficking, gangs (and) elder abuse. She’s simply trying to scare them with crass politics.”

In a recent poll by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Carr was ahead by about 10 percentage points in the race. He received support from almost 45% of those polled by the AJC. Jordan had the support of about 35% of those polled. Cowen received support from a little more than 5% of likely voters polled. The rest of the respondents were undecided.

Carr is also leading in fundraising. The incumbent reported raising about $4.3 million as of Sept. 30, according to campaign finance records. The AJC reported Tuesday that more than $70,000 of Carr’s donations came from a health insurance giant that has paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in legal settlements with states over pharmacy overbilling allegations. St. Louis-based Centene Corp. said in a statement that it’s working to settle Medicaid billing issues with Georgia.

Jordan accused Carr of “cozying up” to Centene executives at the expense of Georgians.

“Mr. Carr, will you continue to put your personal interest and the interest of your corporate donors ahead of the people in Georgia?” she said.

Carr pushed back against questions that the donations would influence him when the settlement makes it to his office.

“From a campaign perspective, I’ve done everything aboveboard legally and ethically,” he said. “From a legal perspective, we look at the facts and the law. My one goal as attorney general is to always vigorously defend our client — that are the state agencies, but most importantly, the people of our state.”

Jordan has raised about $3.1 million, according to her filings. Cowen reported raising $2,800 in donations.

Watch a replay of the debate