Abortion showcases political divide in Georgia lieutenant governor contest

At a pair of debates Tuesday, all four Republican candidates in the lieutenant governor’s race said abortion should be banned, while nearly all Democratic hopefuls said the right to the procedure should be enshrined in the state constitution.

The responses come a day after a leaked draft of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling released by Politico indicated the high court was planning to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 case that guaranteed the right to an abortion nationwide.

The answers highlight the political rift in the state, where lawmakers in 2019 passed a restrictive abortion law, often referred to as the “heartbeat bill,” outlawing the procedure in most cases once a doctor can detect fetal cardiac activity, typically about six weeks into a pregnancy and before many women know they are pregnant.

“The Bible tells you the day of conception, it’s a life,” Republican Mack McGregor said during the debate put on by the Atlanta Press Club. “That’s where I stand on that issue. The heartbeat bill was a good (step) forward in protecting life and children. But I think it could get better.”

Georgia’s law would allow abortions after a doctor detects fetal cardiac activity in cases of rape, incest, if the life of the woman is in danger or in instances of “medical futility,” when a fetus would not be able to survive after birth. To obtain an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy because of rape or incest, a woman would have to file a police report.

A challenge to Georgia’s law is now pending before a three-judge panel of the federal appeals court in Atlanta. In September, the panel put the case on hold, deciding to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Mississippi — the case involved in the leaked draft.

When asked directly, all four Republican candidates said they support a ban on all abortions, regardless of how far along the pregnancy is, how the pregnancy occurred or if the pregnancy risks the life of the mother.

On the Democratic side, state Rep. Renitta Shannon said the right to abortion should be enshrined in the Georgia Constitution.

“I’ve always known what’s at stake, and it’s why I put my body on the line in 2019 when Georgia tried to outlaw (most) abortion. I was the only legislator that went that far,” she said, referring to her being physically removed from the House floor during debate of the bill. “Access to abortion is health care, and access to health care is lifesaving.”

Seven of the nine Democratic candidates appeared at Tuesday’s debate, and all but one of them said that they support passing a law that guarantees a right to an abortion. Former U.S. Rep. Kwanza Hall and Rashid Malik did not participate in the debate.

Candidates on both sides of the aisle debated a wide range of issues including election security, the environment and the possibility of working with a divided government — either a Republican lieutenant governor working with a Democratic governor or a Democratic lieutenant governor leading a Republican-majority state Senate.

The Republican candidates are state Sen. Burt Jones, McGregor, state Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller and Jeanne Seaver. The Democratic candidates are state Rep. Erick Allen, Charlie Bailey, Tyrone Brooks Jr., Tony Brown, Hall, Jason Hayes, state Rep. Derrick Jackson, Malik and Shannon. The winners in each primary will take on Libertarian candidate Ryan Graham in November.