ATLANTA — The four Georgia Republicans who want to succeed retiring Sen. Saxby Chambliss all oppose abortion.
Two recently voted in favor of a U.S. House bill to outlaw nearly all abortions beyond the 20th week after conception. Another, a former secretary of state, expressed support for the measure. Meanwhile, Rep. Paul Broun, an obstetrician, voted against it, saying it didn’t go far enough. That move garnered him a de facto endorsement from a leading anti-abortion group in Georgia.
The divide exposes fault lines in an already divisive primary that some party figures worry could set up a repeat of 2012 losses in Missouri and Indiana, GOP-leaning states where Democrats cast Republican Senate nominees as out of the mainstream, based mostly on their views on abortion.
Broun defends his outlier vote – just six Republicans voted against the bill – because the proposal contains exceptions for pregnancies that result from rape or incest.
As he put it: “I am extremely disappointed that House Republican leadership chose to include language to subject some unborn children to needless pain and suffering.”
Strategists in both parties say Broun pulls the GOP primary field further to the right, which potentially gives Democrats an opening.
No Democrats have entered the race, though Atlanta philanthropy executive Michelle Nunn is mulling a bid. Her father, Democrat Sam Nunn, represented Georgia in the U.S. Senate.
In the Republican primary, abortion probably won’t be the only consideration for most voters, but it could affect the result in a crowded field.
Rep. Jack Kingston, who voted for the 20-week abortion ban, said Broun’s vote is an “irresponsible approach.”
“The question is whether unborn children are more protected with this law,” Kingston said.
Karen Handel, the former secretary of state, said, “That sort of all-or-nothing approach is what’s wrong with Washington.” Handel supports rape and incest exceptions.
Jen Talaber, an aide to Rep. Phil Gingrey, said Gingrey wasn’t pleased with the exceptions, but “supported the bill because it saves lives.”
Gingrey, also an obstetrician, has already walked a fine line on abortion. He publicly defended as “partly right” failed Missouri Senate candidate Todd Akin’s claim last year that a woman’s body can avoid pregnancy from a “legitimate rape.” Gingrey later apologized and called his own remarks “stupid.”
The National Right to Life Committee strongly supported the bill and warned House members in a letter beforehand that a “no” vote would be viewed “as a vote to allow unlimited abortion in the sixth month or later.”
Douglas Johnson, the group’s legislative director, said Broun followed some bad advice. But the group’s state affiliate, Georgia Right to Life, praised Broun.
In a letter on the organization’s Web site, President Dan Becker called out Gingrey and Kingston as “Georgia politicians who say one thing and vote another.” Becker followed by saying, “Let’s elect (Broun) our new U.S. senator.”
That prompted pushback from some Republicans. RedState.com founder Erick Erickson called for the formation of a new state anti-abortion group to replace Georgia Right to Life.
“Instead of saving souls, they’d rather stone those who are trying to save souls,” Erickson wrote in a June 19 blog post.
Suzanne Ward, a state Right to Life executive, said the Georgia group doesn’t worry about election outcomes.
“It’s never wrong to do the right thing,” she said. “We don’t set our standard on political winds. Our standards are based on the word of God, and that doesn’t change.”
Ward said her group’s endorsement, complete with PAC contributions and organizational muscle, will come later. Asked whether a candidate who supported the House bill could win the nod, she said, “We would always want to leave the door open for people to become educated and change their positions. We hope and pray people would do that.”
Kingston said he doesn’t think the distinctions over abortion exceptions will have a strong effect, at least in the Republican primary. Most social conservatives, he predicted, will save their energies to campaign against a Democrat next year.