Bookman: Why wait till next session to pass an outright abortion ban in Georgia?

Photo of Georgia Governor Brian KempOpinion writer Jay Bookman says all Gov. Brian Kemp has to do is call the Legislature into special session to enact an outright ban on abortion soon. So, what’s stopping him? Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder (file photo)

by Jay Bookman, Georgia Recorder [This opinion article first appeared in the Georgia Recorder, republished with permission]
June 27, 2022

I have a question for Gov. Brian Kemp: When’s the special session?

Last week’s monumental ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade has swung the gates wide open to Georgia’s conservative governing party, giving Republicans permission to enact the anti-abortion legislation that they claim to have always wanted. I have no doubt that when the General Assembly meets as scheduled in January, its primary mission will be to pass an outright ban of abortion, and given the momentum will probably do so even in cases of rape or incest.

But my question is why wait? They’ve long had the votes; thanks to six justices, they now have the power as well. All Kemp has to do is to call the Legislature into special session in, say, two weeks, and a few days later they will have achieved the goal that they have spent decades pursuing.

Of course, there is an election to consider.

Polls here in Georgia and nationwide have shown significant majorities in support of Roe v. Wade and of maintaining access to safe, legal abortions for those who choose that course. And while pro-choice voters can’t vent their outrage directly at the Supreme Court, the 2022 ballot offers a lot of other tempting targets, including Kemp himself. The ruling has a very good chance of altering the course of this election and many a political career, and Republicans understand that calling a pre-election special session to ban abortion would only pour gasoline on an already raging fire.

But let’s think about this for a minute: We have been lectured for decades by conservatives that theirs is a moral crusade, a crusade to save the lives of the unborn. By taking immediate action, right now, they can prevent hundreds of abortions that will otherwise take place in Georgia between now and next winter, when the Legislature comes back into regular session and finally has time to act.

Are those unborn all to be sacrificed out of crude electoral calculation? Probably, yeah.

And here’s another question: What if no action is taken, but Kemp loses in November?

If Kemp loses and Stacey Abrams becomes governor, the window opened by the Supreme Court then slams shut again. The Republican opportunity to outlaw abortion in Georgia would disappear for at least another four years and probably for a lot longer than that.

By acting now, when they control both the Legislature and the governor’s office, Republicans can put an outright ban on the books that Abrams and the Democrats can’t remove until they too control all the levers of power at the Gold Dome. Even optimistic Democrats know that’ll be a while.

So again, the only reason for not doing so is political calculation. They are balancing what they perceive to be human lives against their own political self-preservation, and they are choosing self-preservation.

Some moral crusade.

In his opinion overturning Roe, Justice Samuel Alito wrote that through the court’s action, “the authority to regulate abortion is returned to the people and their elected representatives.” Personally, I don’t think the fundamental right to privacy and to autonomy over your own life, body and personal decisions should be subject to the whims of the ballot box or to actions of a legislature, but Alito and his friends get to make that choice and I don’t.

Very well then. If you have the courage of your convictions, Gov. Kemp, if this is really about saving innocent lives, then call a special session and save some. Anything less would be some pretty spectacular hypocrisy.

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