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Buford Sen. Renee Unterman announces run for Congress
Renee Unterman
Renee Unterman

ATLANTA — When Gov. Brian Kemp signed Georgia’s “heartbeat” abortion ban into law on May 7, one of the most high-profile women by his side was Republican state Sen. Renee Unterman, who proudly donned a baseball cap reading “PRO LIFE.”

Unterman announced Thursday evening she will run for Congress in Georgia’s 7th District, bringing the abortion issue to the forefront of highly competitive U.S. House races in Atlanta’s northern suburbs.

She joins an already crowded race to represent a territory that Republicans are trying to hold on to as it has become more urban and diverse in recent decades. Unterman is among several Republicans looking to take the seat of retiring incumbent Republican Rep. Rob Woodall, who last year squeaked out a 419-vote victory over Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux in what became one of the closest House races in the country.

In the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats nationwide capitalized on shifting alignments in suburban and exurban districts. The party picked up 41 U.S. House seats then, with its newfound House majority anchored in districts including Georgia’s 6th, just west of the 7th. Both districts tend to be educated, affluent and previously GOP-leaning. As such, they present possible opportunities for Democrats and potential perils for Republicans when it comes to the abortion issue.

Unterman joins a Republican field that already includes former Home Depot executive Lynne Homrich, former NFL running back Joe Profit, U.S. Air Force veteran Ben Bullock, businessman Mark Gonsalves, emergency room doctor Richard Dean McCormick and education professional Lerah Lee.

Unterman is not the only one staking out a strong anti-abortion stance in the district, which includes stretches of Gwinnett and Forsyth counties northeast of downtown Atlanta. On her website, Homrich says she believes “every life is precious and deserves our protection” and that she’ll work to advance anti-abortion legislation. Profit’s website says: “I support cultivating a culture which values life and providing alternative resources such as adoption for women to bravely carry life full term.”

Democrats, for their part, are seeking to capitalize on the issue, which they say exposes their GOP rivals as out of touch with the constituency they’re running to represent.

Bourdeaux, who’s again looking to be the Democratic nominee, had help from abortion-rights groups Planned Parenthood and Emily’s List in 2018, and said she expects even more enthusiastic — and early — support in 2020.

“Women in my age group — 30s, 40s and 50s — have always assumed that choice was there for us and that we’d have control over our bodies,” Bourdeaux said. “Now it is a question for our generation whether we are going to leave those same rights for our children.”

Bourdeaux said the issue resonates with the expanding Democratic base in her district, but is also key to coaxing out the middle of the electorate that helped her come within 500 votes of Woodall.

“It’s time for a gut check for professional middle-class women,” Bourdeaux said.

Bourdeaux leads a field of Democrats that also includes Democratic party organizer Nabilah Islam, lawyer Marqus Cole, former Fulton County board of commissioners chairman John Eaves and state Rep. Brenda Lopez Romero.

The issue of abortion also seems likely to permeate the 6th U.S. House District, where Democrat Lucy McBath last year upset incumbent Republican Karen Handel. The district covers suburbs across Cobb, Fulton and DeKalb counties.

One of the early Republicans to rise to challenge McBath in the 6th District is state Sen. Brandon Beach, who voted in favor of the abortion ban. McBath, meanwhile, has tweeted that she was “alarmed and disappointed to see legislation to restrict abortion access in our country.”

Georgia’s law effectively bans abortions about six weeks into a pregnancy. The ban is set to take effect in January, but legal experts believe it will be blocked in court before then.

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Associated Press writer Bill Barrow contributed to this report.