The Jolt: Brian Kemp pressed on special session for more abortion restrictions

News and analysis from the politics team at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Gov. Brian Kemp speaks on Sine Die, the last day of the General Assembly at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Monday, April 4, 2022. (Branden Camp/ For The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Branden Camp for the AJC

Credit: Branden Camp for the AJC

Gov. Brian Kemp speaks on Sine Die, the last day of the General Assembly at the Georgia State Capitol in Atlanta on Monday, April 4, 2022. (Branden Camp/ For The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

A six-week abortion ban like the one Georgia has passed isn’t enough for some anti-abortion leaders.

On Monday, Georgia Right to Life pressed Gov. Brian Kemp to call a special session to pass legislation that would enshrine so-called personhood rights in the constitution.

The move would legally define life as being “at any stage of development from fertilization to natural death,” a step that in vitro fertilization experts have said would essentially end the practice in the state.

GRTL President Ricardo Davis said activists need to “act now, while we have the opportunity,” our AJC colleague Maya T. Prabhu reported.

The group is now circulating a petition for the governor.

“No one knows what the outcome of the November election will be, and we do not have any assurance that pro-life leaders will be elected to serve in 2023,” the petition reads.

Among the supporters of the effort is Kandiss Taylor, who challenged Kemp in May’s GOP primary, and Truth in Education, which opposed the state’s Mental Health Parity Act earlier this year.

A constitutional amendment to codify the anti-abortion language almost certainly isn’t going to happen any time soon. It would require two-thirds of support in the Legislature, which only narrowly passed the so-called “heartbeat bill” in 2019. A statewide ballot measure would then have to win support from a majority of Georgia voters.

A call for a special session would have to come through the governor or a vote by three-fifths of the Legislature. Asked about the chances he’ll reconvene lawmakers, Kemp’s spokeswoman said Monday that the governor is focused on implementing H.B. 481.

Stacey Abrams, Kemp’s Democratic challenger, said through a spokesman that the Republican incumbent should be “honest with Georgians” about the intent of the anti-abortion law.

“If Brian Kemp actually cared about the health, safety, and wellbeing of Georgians, he would expand Medicaid and focus on Georgia’s maternal mortality crisis and baby formula shortage,” said the spokesman, Alex Floyd.

Georgia Life Alliance, another anti-abortion group, said it supports Kemp’s position implementing the so-called “heartbeat bill.”


CHANGE UP. State Sen. Burt Jones, the Republican nominee for lieutenant governor, joined other GOP rivals at a pre-primary debate saying that he supports a total ban on abortion.

Asked, “Would you like to ban it straight up or keep the fetal heartbeat bill in place?” In response, Jones said, “Ban it.”

He’s now taking a different stance, telling audiences he backs some exceptions to allow abortions in some circumstances.

“Senator Jones supports protecting all life,” a campaign spokesman said, adding that for abortion limits, Jones “supports exceptions in the case of rape, incest, and the health and wellbeing of the mother.”

A reminder that Senate hopeful Herschel Walker backs an outright ban on abortion, saying he supports “legislation which protects the sanctity of human life, even if the legislation is not perfect.”

As for Gov. Brian Kemp, he personally supports banning abortion with an exception only if the life of the mother is at stake. But he said he’s committed to defending the anti-abortion law he signed in 2019, which bans the procedure as early as six weeks and also includes exceptions for rape and incest, if the woman has filed a police report, as well as “medically futile” pregnancies.


TIMELINE. Georgia’s six-week abortion ban won’t go into effect for at least several weeks, the AJC’s Maya Prabhu reports.

The federal appeals court considering the fate of H.B. 481 asked attorneys for each side Monday to file legal briefs that “address the effect, if any, the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization has on this appeal.” The lawyers have until July 15 to submit the filings.


JORDAN’S A NO. The Democratic nominee for attorney general, state Sen. Jen Jordan, said she would not spend her office’s resources defending H.B. 481 if she’s elected. On a call with reporters Monday, Jordan said, “I would not defend it because I do not believe it is lawful.”


NEWS NEXT DOOR. In the meantime, South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson announced Monday that the state’s own six-week abortion ban is now in effect.

The Post and Courier in Charleston reports the South Carolina legislature is also planning to convene a special session after July 1 to consider a complete abortion ban.

That process will start in the House, where a 12-member committee is expected to hear testimony and make recommendations. When that committee will start is expected to be announced this week.

Senate Majority Leader Shane Massey, R-Edgefield, has promised the legislature would not act hastily on the issue.

- The Post and Courier

And in Alabama, the state’s law now bans all abortions except when the life of the mother is endangered. Doctors involved in future abortions could be subject to a Class A felony charge. reports that there are no exceptions for rape and incest in the law-- and that the state’s remaining abortion clinics stopped operating last Friday.


SURPRISE WITNESS. The U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection was supposed to be on hiatus until after the chamber returns from recess on July 11.

But with less than 24 hours notice, the committee announced a hearing for 1 p.m. today to “to present recently obtained evidence and receive witness testimony.”

As of this morning, there were no official details about what would be covered in today’s hearing or who would be called to testify.

But Punchbowl News reported Monday night that Cassidy Hutchinson, who served as an aide to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows during the Trump administration, is expected to testify. She was privy to conversations between allies of then-President Donald Trump leading up to the riot and was in the White House as it unfolded.

One sign that Hutchinson was preparing to testify: She abruptly parted ways with her lawyer, veteran Georgia attorney Stefan Passantino, earlier this month. Passantino has deep ties to Donald Trump’s inner circle.

Hutchinson’s videotaped testimony shared during the last hearing included her recounting which Republican members of Congress had sought out pardons after the Capitol riot. Although she said she had not talked to Georgia Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene herself, Hutchinson said she heard second-hand that the Rome Republican was among those who inquired.

Now, it appears that she may be testifying in person and could have new details to share. Other witnesses could also be announced.


IN THE FIELD. U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock will lead a field hearing of the Senate Aging Committee in Georgia.

The meeting, to be held Friday in Fayetteville, will focus on testimony from seniors and medical professionals about the high cost of prescription medication. Warnock will also highlight legislation he has introduced that is intended to reduce healthcare costs.

Separately, Warnock has also penned a letter to Food and Drug Commissioner Robert Califf asking for information on how the agency responded to the infant formula shortage and steps taken to prevent that from happening again.


WARNOCK ON ROE. At a stop in Valdosta over the weekend, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock talked about the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.

To loud applause, the senator said, “Instead of showing up in a patient’s room, why don’t you show up in the classroom and protect our children from all of this violence? If you care about our children, there are some places you can actually show up and make a difference,” he said. “Why don’t you do something about the high maternal mortality rate, which is almost criminal….now that’s something the government can do something about.”


ON THE ROAD. Also out and about in the state this Senate recess week is U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff.

On Tuesday, he’ll be in Athens in the morning and at the Gainesville Poultry Lab in the afternoon for two events focused on Georgia’s agriculture industry.

On Wednesday, he’ll travel to Norcross and Albany to talk about pediatric emergency care.


MAKING FRIENDS. Just minutes after the U.S. Supreme Court officially released its ruling reversing federal protections for abortions, a staff assistant to U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk sent a short email to a list-serv with other low-level House employees.

“Our office has some Lifesavers for anyone who wants to trade,” Dave Goodson wrote to the list-serv, which goes out to staffers in congressional offices who coordinate constituent tours.

A staffer who works for Rep. Jerry Nadler, a New York Democrat, shared the email on Twitter and said that many of its recipients had taken offense.

“This is how House Republican staffers are reacting to the news,” Drew Heineman wrote. “This wasn’t sent to an R(epublican) email list. It was sent to every staff assistant on both sides of the aisle....many who are women that are in tears right now.”

Heineman elaborated in a reply on how Goodson’s email had drawn offense: “It was a troll meant to inflict pain on congressional staffers that are upset about having their autonomy over their body taken away. They think they are saving lives by forcing women to give birth against their will.”

A spokesman for Loudermilk, R-Cassville, didn’t exactly condemn Goodson’s email, but it didn’t fully absolve him either.

“David is a new employee who made an infraction against Rep. Loudermilk’s office policies,” spokesman Brandon Cockerham said. “He’s apologized, and it’s a matter Rep. Loudermilk is handling internally.”


ALWAYS SMYRE’N: Congratulations to state Rep. Calvin Smyre, U.S. Ambassador nominee to the Bahamas, who won the Georgia Municipal Association’s Key Citizen Award at this year’s annual convention. Previous winners for the top honor include former President Jimmy Carter, the late U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson and former Gov. Nathan Deal.

Congratulations also to the GMA, which pulled off the fullest convention program we’ve ever seen, along with speeches from Gov. Brian Kemp, Stacey Abrams, U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, and many, many Jolt readers.


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