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Column: Abortion hasn’t hit Georgia political ads — yet
08292018 TOM BAXTER
Tom Baxter

The big difference you see this year in political ads in Georgia and Illinois is the way they engage the issue of abortion.

Abortion is front and center in Illinois as that state closes in on its June 28 primary. In an ad, which was getting frequent airtime in Chicago last week, Republican gubernatorial candidate Jesse Sullivan, seated next to his wife in the pew of a church, accuses Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker of using tax dollars to turn Illinois into “the abortion capital of the Midwest.” 

“I will never apologize for my faith, and I will always fight for life,” Sullivan says.

The setting for an ad by Democratic secretary of state candidate Anna Valencia is a doctor’s office, where she accuses her primary rival, Alexi Giannoulias, of having supported an anti-choice candidate.

“After 50 years, a woman’s right to choose is being torn away,” Valencia says.

I haven’t seen all the ads that have aired in Georgia this year, but I don’t recall one in which abortion has been mentioned, much less given the prominence it has in Illinois.

It’s not that abortion isn’t an issue in Georgia. The annual anti-abortion rally on the anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision draws huge crowds to the Capitol most years, and abortion rights groups raise a lot of money in metro Atlanta. But when political strategists place their bets on which issues will move voters in Georgia, they haven’t put their ad money on abortion. Not yet, at least.

The immediate reason for the emphasis on abortion in Illinois is Pritzker’s pledge to keep abortion legal for both residents and non-residents who come to the state, which has been a lightning rod for both sides.

“The terrifying implications of this decision and what it means for millions of women across the country cannot be understated,” Pritzker said shortly after a draft Supreme Court decision overturning Roe was leaked last month. “But let me be clear: no matter what atrocity of an opinion the Supreme Court officially rolls out this summer in regards to Roe versus Wade — abortion will always be safe and legal here in Illinois.”

There may be more fundamental reasons as well. Illinois has a higher percentage of Roman Catholic residents than Louisiana. It’s much higher than Georgia, although this state has one of the fastest-growing Catholic populations in the country. Evangelical Protestants may be as fervently anti-abortion as conservative Catholics today, but this wasn’t the case before Roe v. Wade. Organized resistance to abortion has much deeper roots in the Catholic Church.

Illinois is also one of the nation’s bluest states, which is a perfect combination pushing abortion to the forefront this political season. While other states, including Georgia, have enacted more restrictive abortion laws, Illinois has moved in the opposite direction. In 2019, the state overturned a 1975 law that banned abortions after 12 weeks. A new law went into effect this month that repeals a 1995 parental notification law. Doctors can now perform an abortion on a minor without notifying parents.

If Roe is overturned this summer, we could see the issue popping up in political ads in Georgia. Barring something very unusual, time is short: there are two “decision days” on this week’s Supreme Court calendar. After that, the court would normally go into its summer recess and not issue any more decisions until the beginning of its October term. If that happens — and we’ll know soon enough — the suspense over what the court’s really going to say will ratchet up exponentially.

Tom Baxter is a veteran Georgia journalist who writes for The Saporta Report. His column publishes weekly in The Times.