/Democrats set to debate in Georgia amid abortion battle

Democrats set to debate in Georgia amid abortion battle

Earlier this year, when Georgia became the fourth state in the nation to sign a ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, the move was met with an outpouring of reaction across the country.

Some supporters of the law saw it as a means to getting closer to the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade; some opponents readied to fight the law in court while others threatened to boycott Georgia-based work if the law went into effect.

The issue is now expected to make its way onto the Democratic debate stage Wednesday night when 10 2020 Democratic candidates face off at Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta, a city that served as ground zero for Georgia’s abortion ban fallout.

Where does the Georgia law stand?

In May, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a law that put a ban on abortions once a fetal heartbeat could be detected, which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy and before some women are aware they are pregnant. The signing was immediately met with legal challenges, and last month, a federal judge temporarily blocked the legislation, which would have gone into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

As the litigation over the ban continues to move through the courts, under current Georgia law, abortion is legal and permitted up to 20 weeks into a pregnancy.

PHOTO: Women hold signs during a protest against recently passed abortion ban bills at the Georgia State Capitol building, in Atlanta, May 21, 2019.Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images, FILE

Women hold signs during a protest against recently passed abortion ban bills at the Georgia State Capitol building, in Atlanta, May 21, 2019.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), as well as Planned Parenthood and the Center for Reproductive Rights, challenged the law on behalf of physicians, health care providers and patients in June.

“We’re continuing to pursue the litigation until there’s a final ruling in [the U.S. District Court in Atlanta],” ACLU of Georgia Executive Director Andrea Young told ABC News this week.

If the legislation is allowed to be enacted, the fetus would be considered a “natural person” and a dependent minor for tax purposes, as well as subject to receive child support.

The law signed by Kemp would allow for some exceptions including rape and incest, but the pregnant person would first have to file a police report alleging those offenses.

Additionally, the law would allow for abortions if the procedure was necessary to avoid the death of the pregnant person or to avert the risk of causing them serious physical impairment. Abortions would also be permitted if the fetus is determined to be medically nonviable.

Where do the Democratic candidates stand?

While Democratic candidates are united in wanting to protect Roe v. Wade — the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that favored a woman’s right to privacy, and therefore, to have the option of obtaining an abortion — they are divided on whether reforming the Supreme Court is the way to keep it in place.

In what could serve as a preface to Wednesday’s debate, candidates were asked for the first time to weigh in on abortion policy on the debate stage last month in Ohio — another state that banned abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, although that law has also been challenged and is not enacted.

If elected president, Sen. Kamala Harris of California said at the October debate she would turn to her Justice Department to review state laws that succeeded in restricting abortion.

“For any state that passes a law that violates the constitution, and in particular Roe V. Wade, our department of justice will review that law to determine if it is compliant with Roe V. Wade and the constitution, and if it is not, that law will not go into effect,” Harris said.

Also at that debate, Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, former Vice President Joe Biden, former HUD Secretary Julian Castro and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii said they would be in favor of codifying Roe v. Wade. That move would make a person’s right to an abortion a federal law and would protect that right if Roe v. Wade is overturned by the Supreme Court.

PHOTO: Democratic presidential hopefuls speak during the fourth Democratic primary debate at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, Oct. 15, 2019.Win Mcnamee/Getty Images, FILE

Democratic presidential hopefuls speak during the fourth Democratic primary debate at Otterbein University in Westerville, Ohio, Oct. 15, 2019.

The refrain for codifying the ruling extended to another question during last month’s debate when candidates were asked whether they would want to add justices to the Supreme Court in the case of Roe v. Wade being overturned during their time in the Oval Office.

“I would not get into court packing. We add three justices. Next time around, we lose control, they add three justices. We begin to lose any credibility the court has at all,” Biden said in his response.

South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who has discussed expanding the number of justices on the bench, countered that the addition of justices didn’t have to be partisan.

“The idea that women’s reproductive freedom is an American right. What I’m talking about is reforms that will depoliticize the court,” Buttigieg said. “We cannot go on like this, where every single time there is a vacancy, we have this apocalyptic, ideological firefight over what to do next.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts said “there are many different ways” to make reforms while indicating she was open to adding justices to the bench. However, Warren added there should be room for congressional involvement in passing legislation.

“We should not leave this to the Supreme Court,” she said. “We should do it through democracy because we can.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont was not specifically asked to weigh in on this question, but has voiced opposition to packing the Supreme Court in the past.

“My worry is that the next time the Republicans are in power, they will do the same thing, so I think that is not the ultimate solution,” Sanders said at the “We the People” Summit in April.

Sanders added, “What I do think may make sense is if not term limits, then rotating judges to the appeals court, as well.”

What’s next?

On Monday, the Democratic Attorneys General Association announced it would only endorse candidates who “who support the right to access abortion and publicly commit to protecting reproductive rights.” The group is the first national party committee to put such a litmus test on candidates. The move was applauded by Alexis McGill Johnson, acting president and CEO of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

PHOTO: Young women from Paideia High School hold signs during a protest against recently passed abortion ban bills at the Georgia State Capitol building, in Atlanta, May 21, 2019.Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Images, FILE

Young women from Paideia High School hold signs during a protest against recently passed abortion ban bills at the Georgia State Capitol building, in Atlanta, May 21, 2019.

With just over two months left until the first ballots of the Democratic primary season are cast, polling shows support for legal abortion is at its highest point since 1995. Sixty percent of Americans say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, according to ABC News/Washington Post polling.

Even so, Kirsten Day, executive director of the anti-abortion group Democrats for Life of America, told ABC News this week, “Republicans are going one way, and Democrats are going the other, and there’s just all this middle ground that’s left out [and] doesn’t like either extreme.”

According to Day, the requirement of a pro-abortion litmus test on Democratic candidates threatens the party’s ability to win over southern voters and points to the recent Louisiana gubernatorial election as proof.

“John Bel Edwards is the only Democratic governor in the south, and he prides himself on his pro-life position, he didn’t run from it,” Day said.

While Day’s prediction remains to be determined, when it comes to abortion laws in Georgia and across the country, Young of the ACLU remains optimistic.

“I’m not one of those who believes that the Supreme Court would overrule Roe v. Wade,” Young insists. “There is nothing in the facts of these cases that would justify that kind of disruption.”