Georgia Democrats who struggled to counter concerns about rising fuel prices and inflation suddenly have a unifying campaign message following the leaking of a draft of a U.S. Supreme Court opinion that would overturn Roe v. Wade.
In an instant, the yet-to-be-issued ruling redefined the campaigns of Stacey Abrams and other Democrats in marquee midterm contests, as they promised to make protecting access to abortion a paramount issue if they’re elected to the state’s highest offices.
They drew a contrast with Republican leaders in Georgia who celebrated the Supreme Court’s willingness to strike down the 1973 case that legalized abortion and, in some cases, they vowed to tighten restrictions on the procedure or outlaw it altogether.
Abrams, who until recently focused her campaign on expanding Medicaid, immediately put abortion rights front and center. She briefly paused her campaign fundraising to channel donations to abortion rights groups and called on her supporters to respond to the potential ruling with “rage and with absolute dismay.”
“This campaign will absolutely lean into and lead on that issue,” she said in an interview. “Because if I want to be the governor of one Georgia, that means I’ve got to govern for the women of Georgia. And the women of Georgia, by and large, agree that their right to choose should not be stripped away from them.”
And U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, perhaps the most vulnerable Senate Democrat up for election in November, quickly declared himself a “pro-choice pastor” and revealed that he backed overhauling the filibuster to allow a vote to preserve abortion rights.
“I think that no Senate rule and no Senate procedure is more important than people’s constitutional rights,” Warnock said in an interview as he advocated for scaling back the 60-vote threshold to adopt legislation in a 50-50 Senate.
“And it is our duty as one of the three co-equal branches of government to find a way to stand with the American people, 70% of which believes that it is a woman’s right to choose,” Warnock said.
The senator was referencing an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll in January that showed about 68% of Georgia voters opposed overturning Roe, which has guaranteed the right to an abortion for nearly a half-century.
The Democratic stances sharpened a political chasm over abortion rights in Georgia.
Republican U.S. Senate front-runner Herschel Walker and the five other GOP contenders each support a total ban on abortion, including in cases of rape or incest. So do all four Republican candidates for lieutenant governor.
Gov. Brian Kemp and his allies raced to remind conservatives about the anti-abortion measure he signed in 2019 that could soon be Georgia law if Roe is reversed.
Credit: Bob Andres
Credit: Bob Andres
The measure — which a federal judge put on hold while the Supreme Court considers the Mississippi case addressed in the leaked draft — would ban abortions after a doctor can detect fetal cardiac activity, typically about six weeks into a pregnancy, before many women know they are pregnant.
“We stood up to the cancel culture in Hollywood and we continue to fight that in the court of law,” Kemp told WDUN of the battle for the legislation, which drew threats of boycott and financial fallout from Hollywood executives and other critics.
The yet-to-be-issued ruling that would overturn Roe prompted former U.S. Sen. David Perdue and several Republican legislators to endorse a special legislative session to push a total abortion ban.
“I’m elated with the decision if in fact it comes down,” Perdue told supporters at a campaign stop in Rutledge. “If I were governor when that ruling comes down, I would call the General Assembly back in and ask them to eliminate all of abortion in the state of Georgia.”
Such a prospect is highly unlikely. Georgia’s restrictive 2019 law only passed with one vote to spare in the Georgia House, eking its way to Kemp’s desk after about a dozen GOP legislators abstained from voting or joined Democrats to oppose it. Kemp could face stiff internal opposition if he pushes to impose stricter limits or outlaw the procedure.
Still, many Republicans say the anti-abortion law on Georgia’s books — which could be cleared by the courts to take effect if Roe is nixed — is enough motivation for conservatives to rush to the polls.
And just as Democrats aim to paint their positions as extremist, Republicans expect to flip the script by criticizing Abrams as an outlier for not supporting any limit on abortions. She told the AJC such a decision should be left up to women and their physicians — not politicians.
The potential ruling, which would free states to enforce their own restrictions, will shift attention to down-ticket races for other statewide office and legislative seats.
State Rep. Bee Nguyen is a Democratic candidate for secretary of state, a job that oversees elections and business licenses but has little role in abortion policy.
Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com
Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com
Yet she expects to make it a primary factor in her race for the job, saying the GOP support for anti-abortion measures is a sign that they “don’t care about women.”
“That’s what our Georgia Legislature has told us,” Nguyen said. “And we have been ringing the alarm bell before leader Abrams, before Raphael Warnock, before Senator Ossoff. And people discounted Georgia, and our Georgians have suffered tremendously.”
Even long-shot contenders see the abortion leak as a reality check that will spur disenchanted voters to shake off complacency.
Rome City Commissioner Wendy Davis is a Democrat running to challenge U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene in a deeply conservative northwest Georgia district. To Davis, overturning Roe is a cataclysmic political event that should jolt women into action.
“It’s hard to put into words how deeply personal these issues are,” Davis said. “The decision about who to become a parent — who should get to make that decision? Do you want legislators with us in the gynecologist office? Do you want the president or governor deciding?”
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution is committed to providing voters with the news and information you need to evaluate your choices in this year’s elections. We are delving into the public policy and politics of candidates’ actions and statements, tracking campaign contributions, and writing about the issues and trends as they develop. We continue to focus intensely on voting issues in Georgia and we are also polling and interviewing voters to better understand what’s on their minds.
Credit: Ben Hendren for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Credit: John Spink / John.Spink@ajc.com