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Right-to-life vote draws different views
GOP voters approve amendment question on primary ballot
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The people have spoken - well, the Republicans at least.

In Tuesday's primary election, voters in 47 counties who selected Republican ballots were asked for their opinion on an amendment to the state's constitution that would define when life begins.

The majority of people responded positively, which proponents of an amendment take as a sign of support but opponents see as an unrealistic picture of the state's feelings on the matter.

Georgia Right to Life, an anti-abortion group, asked political party chairmen in counties across the state to sponsor the question, and 47 county Republican parties, including Hall, and one Democratic party agreed.

In Hall County, a little more than 78 percent of voters answered yes to the following question: "Do you support an amendment to the Georgia State Constitution that would declare the right to life is vested in each human being from the earliest biological beginning until natural death?"

Charles Bullock, a political science professor at the University of Georgia, said he isn't surprised the results of the ballot question were overwhelmingly positive.

"You'd expect in a Republican electorate most of them are going to be in favor of this," Bullock said. "I assume the reason these were put on the ballots would be to try to light a fire under the legislature so a sponsor can take this to the Capitol and say, ‘The public has spoken and overwhelmingly they would like to see an amendment like this added.'

"To some extent, it may be preaching to the choir in that most Republicans probably would agree with this already without having to see these kind of figures to convince them, and many Democrats, probably most Democrats in the legislature, are going to oppose it."

Dan Becker, president of Georgia Right to Life, said the organization's legislative goal for 2011 is to see House Resolution 5 approved. The resolution proposes an amendment similar to the one listed in the ballot question. It was introduced in the state House in 2009 and sponsored by Rep. James Mills, R-Chestnut Mountain, but it did not receive the two-thirds majority of votes to pass.

"It's not so much a backward-looking, anti-abortion bill as it is a forward-looking, where do we go from here?" Becker said. "Our emerging technologies are encroaching on human dignity and the sanctity of human life and we've got to draw a line in the sand somewhere."

Leola Reis, external affairs vice president of Planned Parenthood, said the resolution is flawed.

"Its intention is to ban abortion without exception and certain forms of birth control in Georgia, hoping to become a vehicle to overturn Roe v. Wade," Reis said. "I think the most important thing is that initiatives like this don't do anything to address the issues of unintended pregnancies and abortion in our community, and Georgians who really care about preventing unintended pregnancies would be working with organizations like Planned Parenthood on proven initiatives like improving access to prevention like birth control and sex education."

Bullock said ballot questions on social issues are not common, but have been advertised in the past to draw voters to the polls in primary elections.

"In 2004, Georgia and a number of states put bans on gay marriage on the ballot as a referendum, and part of that idea was that would help bring out the conservatives who would then help reelect George Bush," Bullock said.

In order to be added to the state constitution, the resolution would need to be approved by a super majority of two-thirds of the state House of Representatives and two-thirds of the state Senate. It would then be placed on the general election ballot in the next election to be voted on by the entire electorate. If more than 50 percent of voters approved, it could become an amendment.

But Bullock said the likelihood of the resolution passing this year is slim.

"If Democrats are fairly cohesive in opposition, then you're not going to get it through the legislature," Bullock said.

Becker said he hopes the results will encourage moderate Republican politicians to vote with the pro-abortion rights community in mind.

"There is no question Georgia is pro-life at its grass roots," Becker said. "The constituency is now not in question. We have hard data, empirical data showing that their constituents are pro-life, and the question is whether or not they represent their constituents."

Reis sees the results differently.

"It was only on a third of the counties in the state and only on the Republican ballot, except for one, and it's less a reflection of what all Georgians think and more of an effort to play up to their conservative base," Reis said.

"This isn't what we need to be focused on. We need to be focusing on ways to help women access birth control, family planning information to reduce unintended pregnancy and reduce abortions."