AJC: Abortion foes split on best ways to accomplish legislative goals (1/10/2007)

LEGISLATURE 2007: Abortion foes split on best ways to accomplish legislative goals

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 01/10/07 Abortion isn’t supposed to be a hot topic at the Gold Dome this year —- at least according to common political wisdom about a nonelection year.

But state Rep. Bobby Franklin (R-Marietta) and several anti-abortion groups have a different take on the matter. They held a news conference, a prayer vigil and an informal hearing at the Capitol on Tuesday to support House Bill 1, a measure sponsored by Franklin that would ban all abortions in Georgia, with no exceptions.

Several political watchers say the bill is unlikely to gain much traction during the legislative session, but it underscores the balancing act Georgia’s GOP majority must strike between social conservatives and moderate Republicans.

“It’s always tough to maintain that balance once you’re in the majority,” said Kerwin Swint, a political science professor at Kennesaw State University. “I think a lot of lawmakers know where that balance is —- though they might not say much publicly. Most know a bill banning abortion is too hot to handle, even though some may support it. But it’s doubtful they’ll want to put it on the front burner.”

Even within Georgia’s anti-abortion movement, major differences in opinion exist on how best to accomplish the goal. Franklin, for example, said this is the third straight term —- spanning six years —- that he has introduced a bill attempting to ban abortion. None of those proposals has made it to the House floor for a vote.

“I think if it comes to the House floor, it will pass,” Franklin said Tuesday.

Asked to handicap the bill’s chances, Clelia Davis, a spokeswoman for House Speaker Glenn Richardson, would only say, “This bill, like all other bills, will go through the legislative process and be assigned to a committee. We look forward to the debate.”

Some anti-abortion groups’ leaders say they support Franklin’s efforts but have other legislative priorities. The leaders of Georgia Right to Life, for example, said Tuesday they are focusing on a bill that would require women to undergo an ultrasound and give them the opportunity to review the images of the fetus before an abortion, a measure that failed in 2006. Kevin Harris, the group’s lobbyist, said they also plan to pursue a proposal to amend Georgia’s Constitution to ban abortion.

Pat Chivers, a lobbyist and spokeswoman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta, said the church is putting its efforts into the ultrasound bill, which has not been introduced yet this session. Chivers said the Archdiocese supports Franklin’s anti-abortion efforts but is not actively lobbying for his bill.

“We’re concerned about the way it is written, knowing that it would need to go before the Georgia Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court,” Chivers said. “There needs to be some changes on the U.S. Supreme Court before there would be a consideration for this bill.”

Anti-abortion advocates have scored victories in promoting their agenda —- bottled up by Democrats for years —- since the Republicans completed their sweep of the House, Senate and governor’s office in 2004.

In 2005, Georgia Right to Life and the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta helped pass the Woman’s Right to Know Act, which included a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking abortion. Last year, those groups helped push through the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which makes it a crime to kill or injure an unborn child at any stage of pregnancy.

Those recent legislative successes by anti-abortion advocates have spurred abortion rights supporters into action as well. Last year, several women’s rights groups helped derail a house bill that would protect from disciplinary action pharmacists who object on moral or religious grounds to filling a prescription that would terminate a pregnancy. Opponents of the measure worried it could be interpreted to include emergency contraception.

The final measure that passed the General Assembly —- approved as an amendment to another bill —- specifically states that the measure doesn’t authorize a pharmacist to refuse to fill a prescription for birth control.

“We’re not too worried about it becoming law,” Dionne Vann, executive director of NARAL/Pro Choice Georgia, said of HB 1. “But we are concerned and keeping an eye on the fact that a growing number of representatives are jumping on the bandwagon for whatever reason.”

Chuck Clay, a former state senator and former state GOP chairman, said he thinks many anti-abortion leaders have matured politically and know they have a better chance of passing bills that restrict abortion than an all-out ban.

“I respect Bobby Franklin —- he’s entitled to bring his bill, and it’s a pressure valve release for those who feel strongly on the issue,” Clay said. “But on the other side, there’s a practical reality. This bill is not going to reach add the floor, and it’s not worth undermining the leadership of the House and Senate, which are both, in most respects, profoundly pro-life.”

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