The Jolt: Doctors at Democratic event slam new abortion law: ‘A crime against humanity’

News and analysis from the politics team of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Georgia Democrats know Stacey Abrams is trailing in recent polls behind Gov. Brian Kemp. But they believe the state’s new restrictive abortion law, which went into effect last month, could change Abrams’ fortunes and the results for a slew of down-ticket Democratic hopefuls.

At a roundtable sponsored by the Democratic Party of Georgia Thursday night, OB-GYNs talked the confusion the law has caused for patients and doctors, as well as the limits the law creates for women experiencing miscarriages or high-risk pregnancies.

“Patients may present saying, ‘I know that I’m sick,’ or, ‘My other doctor said that I’m sick,’ but classifying that and whether or not it will qualify under our law is very challenging,” said Dr. Tiffany Hailstorks, an OB-GYN who is also a member of the Atlanta Reproductive Justice Commission. “They’re not sick enough.”

Another OB-GYN, Dr. Megan Cohen, called the new law “a crime against humanity.”

“One of the most rewarding parts of our job is really being able to usher people through some of the hardest times of their lives. And being able to do so with compassion and with the best medical care that we have,” she said. “And we cannot do that anymore.”

State Sen. Michelle Au, who is an anesthesiologist, also discussed the anxieties she hears among her hospital colleagues, from the E.R. to pediatricians to infertility specialists and OB-GYNs, about patient outcomes and doctors who could be prosecuted under the law.

“It’s the cruelty of it, and how personally you take it, not just because you care about these patients, but because it runs counter to everything we’ve been trained to do our entire professional careers,” she said.

Kemp signed HB 481 in 2019 and called the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade “a historic victory for life.”

It was hailed as a generation victory for anti-abortion voters and activists.

But the latest AJC poll showed the law is unpopular among Georgia voters. Roughly 55% oppose the new restrictions in the law, while 36% support them.

But the most important numbers may be the ones that came later in the poll.

About 42% of voters said they’re more likely to vote for a candidate who wants to protect abortion rights, compared to about 26% who said they’re more likely to support a candidate who stands by the state’s new restrictions.

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BLACK BUSINESS. Herschel Walker visited with Black business leaders at the Republican National Committee’s community center in College Park, Ga. Thursday trying to showcase how the Biden administration has been bad for the economy.

Walker framed the event as a listening session. He asked questions and took notes as he talked to a panel that included a gun store owner, a realtor, an interior designer and an elected official.

After the event, Walker was asked why he was painting a picture of a bleak economy while fellow Republican, Gov. Brian Kemp, was talking up the state’s growth under his leadership.

“Well, you’re talking about Brian Kemp and we’re talking about Raphael Warnock,” he said. “Whenever I run for governor, I’ll worry about Brian Kemp. Today I’m running for Senate.”

Walker sent a mixed message when it came to minority-owned business certifications, a government designation that gives certain companies access to government contracts.

Walker’s poultry business, Renaissance Man Foods, heavily touts its awards and designations as a certified minority-owned business. But he seemed to dismiss the need for such a category.

“I didn’t want to be a Black owned business. I wanted to be a business,” Walker said.

Later on though, he reversed course when asked if there was a need for a way to level the playing field for minority business owners.

“There’s always room for affirmative action but you have to put the right person at the table,” he said.

Walker has faced criticism for exaggerating and fabricating facts about his businesses.

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LISTEN UP. The Friday edition of the Political Georgia podcast is hot and ready for your eager ears.

Your Insiders break down the dueling economic messages this week from Gov. Brian Kemp Stacey Abrams, along with an attack ad against Herschel Walker, and we unpack this week’s listener mail bag.

Listen, rate, and subscribe to the pod at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, or Stitcher.

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GOOD BET. Change may be coming for the fate of legislation allowing sports betting in Georgia, which has gone nowhere since the 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling opened the possibility for states to legalize the practice.

Stacey Abrams has put the proposal at the center of her economic agenda, saying she’d use the proceeds from sports betting and casino gambling to fund needs-based higher education scholarships.

Charlie Bailey, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor, said he backs a similar idea if he’s elected.

Republican Brian Kemp opposed it during the 2018 campaign, saying: “As a Georgia grad and diehard Dawg fan, losing the national championship was painful enough. Would have been even worse if I had money on the game.”

But the governor has changed his tune since then. His spokesman told us that Kemp plans to work with legislative leaders on a measure to allow sports betting in 2023 if he’s reelected.

And Burt Jones, the GOP nominee for the No. 2 job, said he also wants a measure legalizing sports betting to advance.

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FAST FRIENDS. Speaking of Burt Jones, we noted in a recent Jolt that he hadn’t campaigned publicly with Gov. Brian Kemp. That’s no longer the case.

Jones was front-and-center on Thursday at Kemp’s campaign event, where he announced he would back a $1 billion tax refund and a $1 billion homeowners rebate.

He added that he’ll be a reliable ally of the governor if he’s elected to the No. 2 job, whose duties include presiding over the state Senate.

“Well, 95% of probably everything that governor has done I agree with. You never agree with anybody 100%,” he said, adding:

“But we’re on the same page with pretty much everything, especially right now on the campaign trail with some of the agenda and issues we’re talking about.”

Unlike Kemp, Jones was endorsed and heavily promoted by former President Donald Trump in his GOP primary earlier this year.

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TODAY IN WASHINGTON. The House is scheduled to vote on the Senate-passed health care, climate and tax bill today.

The legislation formerly known as “Build Back Better,” sliced down to size as the “Inflation Reduction Act,” and then stripped of its well-polling name by U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, is likely to be the last major legislative victory for Democrats ahead of the 2022 midterm elections.

It’s got plenty for Georgia’s Democratic delegation to bring home and brag about-- which will also provide fodder for the Republicans saying it costs too much and will be bad for energy costs and businesses.

Punch Bowl News also reports attendance for the Friday vote is expected to be light, with 143 members telling the House clerk they may vote by proxy instead of traveling to Washington to cast their votes.

We’ll keep an eye on Georgia’s members and report back on that-- and the final result.

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POD SAVE ATLANTA. The boy band of the progressive podcasting world-- Jon Favreau, Jon Lovett, Dan Pfeiffer and Tommy Vietor-- are bringing their popular Pod Save America podcast to the Cobb Energy Center for a live show this Saturday.

Stacey Abrams was supposed to be the event’s marquee guest, but virtually sidelined by a COVID diagnosis, is scheduled to call into the show instead.

But the pod squad is forging ahead for what they say will be an evening of “straightforward conversations about politics, the press and the impending threats to our democracy (but in a fun way!)”

If that’s your idea of a fun Saturday night, tickets are still available.

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READING LIST. Since it’s Friday, we always like to send you into the weekend with a little light reading, including:

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AS ALWAYS, Jolt readers are some of our favorite tipsters. Send your best scoop, gossip and insider info to patricia.murphy@ajc.com, tia.mitchell@ajc.com and greg.bluestein@ajc.com.

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