ATLANTA – Abortion and guns took up much of the time Sunday night in the second and final debate of the fall campaign between Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams.
Abrams vowed to repeal the “heartbeat bill” if she is elected governor. The legislation, which the Republican-controlled General Assembly passed three years ago, bans abortion after a fetal heartbeat is detected, typically six weeks into a pregnancy.
The law didn’t take effect until this summer after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion as a constitutional right.
“Abortion is a medical decision that should be made between a doctor and a woman – not a politician,” Abrams said during the one-hour debate, which was aired live by WSB-TV in Atlanta.
Abrams said the law exposes women who have suffered the trauma of a miscarriage to investigation and potentially prosecution if authorities believe they had an illegal abortion.
Kemp said she misrepresented the legislation, which he helped steer to passage during his first year in office.
“Women are not going to be prosecuted under this piece of legislation,” he said. “Doctors who perform illegal abortions would be.”
The governor was asked whether he would support additional restrictions on abortion beyond the heartbeat bill, which allows exceptions for rape, incest, when the mother’s life is at risk, or if a serious medical condition renders a fetus unviable.
Kemp said he would not advocate additional restrictions on abortion but left open whether he would sign a bill the legislature might pass that is more restrictive than the 2019 law.
“It is not my desire to move the needle any further on this issue,” he said.
Kemp and Abrams also sparred over legislation the General Assembly enacted this year allowing Georgians to carry concealed firearms without a permit.
Abrams said the “constitutional carry” measure has made less safe a state that already has the ninth-highest rate of gun violence in the nation. Georgia law allows people to buy guns at gun shows or through private sales without a background check, and there’s no waiting period, she said.
“People are dying from gun violence in the state of Georgia,” Abrams said. “Children are dying.”
Kemp said the constitutional carry law lets law-abiding citizens protect themselves.
“Criminals don’t care what the laws are. They’ve already got the guns,” he said. “The problem was law-abiding citizens couldn’t get a danged permit from the local government … because of bureaucracy.”
Abrams and Kemp also renewed their arguments over the economy and election integrity that came up during their first debate two weeks ago.
Kemp said record low unemployment in Georgia is due to his decision to reopen businesses across the state during the early months of the COVID pandemic, well before most states.
The tax revenues generated by Georgia’s booming economy built up a record $6.6 billion budget surplus the governor used this year to cut taxes, a step he said he plans to repeat if he’s reelected.
Kemp said Abrams criticized his decision to reopen the state’s economy and instead called for dealing with COVID-19 with mask and vaccine mandates.
“We’re one additional COVID variant away from Ms. Abrams wanting to lock our state down,” he said.
Abrams said she advocated a more cautious approach to the pandemic than the governor.
“No one wants lockdowns. No one wants to have to shut down the economy,” she said. “But we should never put anyone’s life on the line just because we want to be first.”
Abrams accused Kemp of pushing a controversial election-reform bill through the legislature last year to reduce the number of black and brown voters following Democratic victories in Georgia during the last election cycle.
The law replaced the signature-match verification process for absentee ballots with an ID requirement and limited the number of ballot drop boxes.
Abrams said the legislation has led to more challenges being lodged against voters.
“Senate Bill 202 has allowed racist white supremacists to challenge the legal authority of citizens to vote,” she said. “It was never about making sure we had fair elections in Georgia. It was about gaming the election for Brian Kemp.”
Kemp said he created an online voter registration system while serving as Georgia’s secretary of state. Senate Bill 202 increased the number of early voting days in Georgia, including Sundays, he said.
The governor and other Republican leaders have pointed to record turnout across Georgia during the first week of early voting last week as proof the election reforms they championed are not putting an undue burden on voters.
This story is available through a news partnership with Capitol Beat News Service, a project of the Georgia Press Educational Foundation.