GOP ‘no’ vote highlights anti-abortion divide in Georgia

U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, R-Georgia, announces his plans to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Saxby Chambliss in 2014, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013,...
U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, R-Georgia, announces his plans to run for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Sen. Saxby Chambliss in 2014, Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013,...
David Goldman/AP Photo, File

Georgia Rep. Paul Broun has worked to paint himself as the most conservative candidate in the GOP primary for the state’s open Senate race. But his vote on Tuesday against the House’s 20-week abortion ban bill drew mixed reactions from anti-abortion groups.

The congressman was one of just six GOP “no” votes on the measure, but only Broun and his home state colleague Rob Woodall said they opposed the measure because it was amended to include exceptions for rape and incest.

While the National Right to Life Committee strongly endorsed the Republican bill passed on Tuesday, Georgia Right to Life opposed the legislation, with the group supporting abortion exceptions only for the life of the mother.

As the Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted, the move by Broun could help him get the GRTL endorsement in the growing primary to succeed retiring Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss. But his vote will cost him with the group’s national arm, the NRLC, which said in a statement they were “extremely disappointed” in Broun and Woodall’s votes against the bill.

Tuesday’s vote could provide a stark contrast if the groups wade into the primary–with GRTL refusing to endorse legislators who back exceptions for rape and incest, while the NRLC said this vote will be key as they make political decisions.

Broun faces Reps. Phil Gingrey and Jack Kingston, who both voted for the bill, in the primary, along with former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel; others are still looking at the race.

In a statement, NRLC legislative director Douglas Johnson praised the seven members from Georgia who voted for the bill, but said the group was “extremely disappointed” in Broun and Woodall’s votes against it.

And in a letter sent to all members of Congress, the NRLC noted that they “will regard a vote against this legislation, no matter what justification is offered, as a vote to allow unlimited abortion in the sixth month or later–and that is the way it will be reported in our scorecard of key right-to-life roll calls of the 113th Congress, and in subsequent communications from National Right to Life to grassroots pro-life citizens in every state.”

Broun, a physician, was originally a co-sponsor of the bill, but asked on the House floor to be removed as a supporter after Republicans added in the rape and incest exceptions.

“As a medical doctor, I believe it is my duty to protect children at all stages of life,” Broun said in a statement. “I am extremely disappointed that House Republican leadership chose to include language to subject some unborn children to needless pain and suffering. I will not support legislation that harms innocent children, and I will continue in my efforts to protect all unborn children by making abortion illegal at all stages of pregnancy.”

The Georgia chapter of the anti-abortion group praised both Broun and Woodall, and GRTL President Daniel Becker praised the two on the group’s website. Becker was already soliciting support for Broun, calling his vote a “courageous move on his part and worthy of praise.”

“This to me is a statesman that will defend our lives, our liberties and our constitution,” Becker wrote of Broun. “He is worthy of your financial and volunteer support. Let’s elect him our new US Senator!”

Becker criticized Gingrey and other members of the state’s delegation who supported the bill as “men who wittingly chose not to stand against the pressure being applied by a morally vacant pro-life lobby.

GRTL has been a critic of Handel’s in the past, too. The group refused to endorse in her 2010 gubernatorial campaign because of the abortion exceptions she supported and criticized former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s endorsement of Handel. After she lost the governor’s race, Handel joined the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation as a vice president, but stepped down last year in a public spat after the group reversed its decision to cut off funding for Planned Parenthood.

Other conservatives say the GRTL has gone too far, though. Conservative commentator Erick Erickson wrote on “Red State” that the “ decision by Georgia pro-life activists is unfortunate.”

Georgia Republican consultant Joel McElhannon said the support Broun could get from the state-based group for his “no” vote could be negligible, but that Broun was clearly trying to position himself as the most conservative in the field–a move that privately worries many Republican strategists,  fearing his extremist comments could put what should be a safe seat in danger. Democrats, well aware of the potential opportunity given a daunting map, are hoping to compete in the Peach State, especially if a controversial GOP nominee emerges.

“Broun continues with trying to brand himself as the absolutist and purist conservative candidate in the field,” said McElhannon. “Georgia Right to Life has marginalized themselves somewhat in the state because of their confrontational, overly aggressive style. They’ve lost a lot of credibility in Georgia.”

GOP 'no' vote highlights anti-abortion divide in Georgia