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Georgia's abortion rights battle is about to shift to local governments

Greg Bluestein, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution on

Published in News & Features

ATLANTA — The battle over access to abortion in Georgia is poised to shift to local officials who see themselves as a last line of defense after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade ruling.

Prosecutors covering some of Georgia's most densely populated areas have vowed they won't seek charges against violators of the state's anti-abortion law. Police agencies are under pressure to focus on violent crimes rather than abortion cases.

And Democratic statewide candidates have pledged to undermine the 2019 law, which could take effect within weeks following the Supreme Court's decision to reverse the constitutional right to abortion.

An Atlanta Journal-Constitution survey of each of the state's 50 district attorneys revealed at least seven who say they'll refuse to prosecute violations of the law, which would ban abortions as soon as six weeks, before many women know they're pregnant.

"We have limited resources. We have an incredible backlog of cases, a shortage of staff and a shortage of resources," said Deborah Gonzalez, the district attorney for a circuit that includes Athens-Clarke and Oconee counties.

"We're looking on where we can have maximum impact, and we need to focus on serious violent crimes. A violation of an abortion bill doesn't meet that."

 

About a dozen prosecutors said they'll address potential violations of the law on a case-by-case basis. Some prosecutors said it was too early to comment on the legislation, while others declined comment or could not be reached after multiple attempts.

The strategy could set up a tense showdown with Gov. Brian Kemp, Attorney General Chris Carr and other Republican officials who championed what they touted as the nation's "toughest" anti-abortion law. Kemp made the 2019 law the centerpiece of his first year in office and has pledged to enforce it.

Carr offered a preview of the sharp clash to come when he accused prosecutors who won't prosecute abortion violators of a "dereliction of duty."

"This shows exactly the trend that we are seeing nationwide. Democrats and those on the left are not enforcing the law. It's the new criminal justice reform," said Carr, who is seeking reelection in November.

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