Since the Supreme Court struck down the federal right to abortion, partisan candidates have ramped up campaign messaging about their positions on reproductive health policy. In Georgia, and elsewhere around the country, top law enforcement officials are also making their stance clear.
Shalena Cook Jones, the Chatham County district attorney, joined 90 elected prosecutors in a pledge that they will not prosecute potential abortion crimes, citing their belief that the right to privacy for medical procedures outweighs potential public harm.
“Not all of us agree on a personal or moral level on the issue of abortion,” said a joint statement released last week. “But we stand together in our firm belief that prosecutors have a responsibility to refrain from using criminal legal system resources to criminalize personal medical decisions.”
Seven Georgia District Attorneys have signed onto the statement, including Cook Jones. Georgia’s district attorney races are nonpartisan, but the seven DAs who supported the statement all represent counties in and around metropolitan areas like Atlanta, Savannah, Augusta, Macon, and Athens. Most of the counties that they represent have leaned Democratic in recent elections.
This legal wrangling should further animate an already heated election season in the Peach State.
Georgia’s six-week ban, currently held up in US appeals court, is among the most restrictive in the country because it designates unborn fetuses as “natural persons.” Under this designation, fetuses can be claimed as tax dependents and considered in population counts.
For their parts, Kemp and Carr have each said that they personally believe in a total abortion ban, with exceptions only if a mother’s life is in danger, but not for victims of rape or incest. Neither has said they’d focus on enacting such a ban in Georgia.
Both Republican Governor Brian Kemp and Attorney General Chris Carr have called on the federal court to act so that the new abortion law can take immediately effect. Democrats worry about even more severe abortion restrictions down the line.
Herschel Walker, Republican candidate for Senate, has said that he supports a total ban on abortion, with no exceptions.
State Senator Burt Jones, the Republican candidate for Lieutenant Governor, said he would support a total ban on abortion in a debate earlier this year. More recently, however, he said he would support exceptions for rape, incest, or threats to the health of the mother.
“I believe life begins at conception but there are a lot of people in the legislature that want to move the needle from where it is to when that heartbeat is,” Kemp said in 2018, “that’s the legislation that people are interested in.”
The prospect of a complete ban seems remote; the law creating a six-week ban passed with only one vote to spare in 2019.
In a 2019 poll, only 11% of Georgians said that they believed abortion should be illegal in all cases, while 58% thought abortion should be legal in most or all cases. Even the six-week ban is controversial according to a 2022 poll, which found that 54% of Georgia voters don’t support it. That disapproval rate was 49% in 2019.
Some state Republicans have considered further restrictions, such as a bill that bans telemedicine prescriptions for medication abortion. That bill, SB 465, did not pass the legislature this spring.
At a press conference in Johnson Square last week, local Democratic leaders made promises to expand abortion access if they win midterm elections.
Their statements came just days after Savannah Medical Clinic, Coastal Georgia’s only surgical abortion provider, closed in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision.
Speakers at the conference included U.S. congressional candidate Wade Herring, state House candidate Anne Allen Westbrook, and former Savannah mayor and Rep. Edna Jackson.
Georgia House District 163 Representative Derek Mallow decried the six-week ban as “dangerous, disgraceful, and undemocratic.” He said Democrats in the state house have already begun to work on new bills to codify the right to an abortion and attempt to enshrine it in the state constitution.
Herring, who is running against Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter this fall, responded to criticism that the Democratic Party and the Biden administration have not been prepared enough for the fall of Roe.
“I don’t think trusting the law and trusting in the Constitution is ever naive,” Herring said, but he described the decision as “a wake-up call.” Earlier, however, he said that “Republicans have made their intentions known for years. They have told us that when they have the opportunity, they would not hesitate to curtail women’s rights.”