Political Insider

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Abortion debate a dividing line in Georgia 6th race

Republican Karen Handel got national attention when she quit a breast-cancer charity because of its ties to an abortion provider. Democrat Jon Ossoff credits his first-place finish in the election to strong support from women who back his abortion rights stance.

A split on abortion is poised to be one of the starkest contrasts between the two candidates in the nationally-watched June 20 runoff to represent a north Atlanta district. And a day after the special election, both contenders dug in.

Ossoff’s campaign, fueled by a corps of women volunteers from upstart groups, has aimed to win over young voters and college-educated women critical of Donald Trump. An unabashed supporter of abortion rights, he claimed Handel used her role at a nonprofit to raise her national profile.

“Karen Handel abused her position at a breast cancer foundation to attack women’s health care for her own political gain,” he said in an interview. “I will be an independent voice for Georgia’s women. I will defend their access to reproductive healthcare. And they’ll be able to count on me.”

He’s referring to Handel’s 2012 decision to quit the Susan G. Komen Foundation. She served as a vice president for policy but quit after it reversed a decision to cut ties with Planned Parenthood. Her book about the episode, called “Planned Bullyhood,” made her a darling to national conservatives.

Handel has said the decision to cut ties to Planned Parenthood was motivated by financial and not political reasons.

In an interview, Handel called herself a “strong proponent of women’s health” and said boosting funding for community health centers, not Planned Parenthood, is the best way to improve access to treatment. She said the network of health centers are more accessible than the four Planned Parenthood clinics across the state. (One of the four is listed as temporarily closed.)

“They are the front lines of healthcare for poor women, and they offer services everyone needs access to,” she said of health centers, adding that they offer contraception. “I want to see more dollars go there so we really are offering more women access to healthcare.”

Planned Parenthood has long been targeted by opponents of abortion rights, and Trump recently signed legislation that allows states to withhold federal funds from it.  A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood called Handel an “anti-healthcare extremist” after her No. 2 finish Tuesday in Georgia’s special election.

More: Handel, Ossoff enter next phase in Georgia special election

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About the Author

Greg Bluestein is a political reporter who covers the governor's office and state politics for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.