Georgia activists in abortion debate turn focus to November elections

June 25, 2022 Atlanta - Attendees walk in a conference room during National Right to Life’s 51st convention at the Atlanta Airport Marriott Hotel in Atlanta on Saturday, June 25, 2022.(Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Combined ShapeCaption
June 25, 2022 Atlanta - Attendees walk in a conference room during National Right to Life’s 51st convention at the Atlanta Airport Marriott Hotel in Atlanta on Saturday, June 25, 2022.(Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

A day after anti-abortion activists attending the National Right to Life convention in Atlanta celebrated the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, attendees trained their sights on their next target: the November mid-term elections.

National Right to Life Executive Director David O’Steen said while Friday’s ruling was a reason to celebrate, on Saturday, it was time to get back to work.

“What the decision gave us was freedom. It gave you the freedom to protect unborn children,” O’Steen told attendees. “Evil, when it is cornered — as it was yesterday, comes back ferociously. We’ve got a real struggle ahead of us. If you think it was trouble before, you ain’t seen nothing yet.”

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday ruled in a Mississippi case that overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that guaranteed women the right to an abortion, allowing states to determine how to regulate the procedure.

Now, Georgians are awaiting the implementation of a 2019 state law that limits access to abortion.

SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective, along with other groups and abortion providers, sued the state in 2019 after the Legislature passed an abortion law 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 challenge to Georgia’s law has been 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.

Georgia Attorney General Chris Carr on Friday filed paperwork in federal court asking the judges to allow the law to go into effect.

Some attendees at the convention said they want abortion restrictions to go even further than Georgia’s 2019 law. Darice Gamble of Fayetteville called the pending law a “good start.”

“However, even before that heartbeat is detected, we know that it is in fact alive,” Gamble said. “I would like, personally, to think that there will come a time that when a woman confirms that she is in fact pregnant, there is a line that within that woman’s womb, that baby will be protected.”

Combined ShapeCaption
A volunteer with National Right to Life holds a sign that has been adjusted to say “Roe is Gone” at the National Right to Life Convention at the Airport Marriott Hotel in Atlanta on Friday, June 24, 2022. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

A volunteer with National Right to Life holds a sign that has been adjusted to say “Roe is Gone” at the National Right to Life Convention at the Airport Marriott Hotel in Atlanta on Friday, June 24, 2022. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Combined ShapeCaption
A volunteer with National Right to Life holds a sign that has been adjusted to say “Roe is Gone” at the National Right to Life Convention at the Airport Marriott Hotel in Atlanta on Friday, June 24, 2022. (Arvin Temkar / arvin.temkar@ajc.com)

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Credit: arvin.temkar@ajc.com

Activists on both sides have their eyes trained on the November election. In Georgia, all statewide offices and 236 legislative seats are up for election.

When asked if Gov. Brian Kemp planned to pursue legislation that would further restrict abortion, a spokesman said the governor’s “focus is on defending and implementing the law that was passed in 2019.” His Democratic opponent Stacey Abrams said, if elected, she would ask the Republican-controlled Legislature to roll back anti-abortion limits. Shane Hazel, a Libertarian running for governor, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Monica Simpson, executive director of SisterSong, said she wants people upset by the Supreme Court ruling to get politically engaged.

“Folks are realizing that all of our social justice movements — voting rights, environmental justice, economic justice, racial justice, queer and trans liberation, disability justice — are inextricably linked to reproductive justice,” she said. “Now is the time that we all fight together for our human right to control our own bodies and determine our futures.”

Georgia anti-abortion activists echoed Kemp’s position on further legislation, saying instead of passing further restrictions, they plan to push bills to help pregnant women who may no longer be able to get an abortion.

Lawmakers have taken some steps to prepare for the implementation of the 2019 law in recent years by passing bills that aim to ease access to adoptions and expand postpartum Medicaid — the public health program that provides care to the poor and disabled.

“I think the next step is getting the heartbeat bill in place so that we can implement it and see what happens. Then we’ll know what we need to do next,” Georgia Life Alliance Executive Director Martha Zoller said. “There’s this narrative that we’ve somehow taken this decision away from women and put them in bureaucrats’ hands. That’s not true. What we’ve done is we’ve put the decision in the hands of duly elected state legislators that are much closer to the people than Supreme Court justices and (Congress).”