By now you’ve heard the 6th Congressional District special election made history in terms of spending on a U.S. House race.
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Among the groups that poured money into supporting the campaigns were those on both sides of the debate on abortion access.
Often though, the candidates found less than direct ways to talk about the issue.
All told, groups that support or oppose abortion rights spent more than $1 million on the race. The majority of that came from Planned Parenthood’s action fund. It spent $800,000 to support Democrat Jon Ossoff. The action fund did not return a call for this article.
Mallory Quigley is with Susan B. Anthony List, a national anti-abortion group that spent more than $90,000 to support Republican Karen Handel, who won Tuesday’s special election.
“I think it’s impossible to say that abortion did not play a role in the race when Ossoff’s second-largest spender on his behalf was Planned Parenthood,” Quigley said. “And Karen Handel is the woman who literally wrote a book called ‘Planned Bullyhood’.”
Handel resigned from the breast cancer organization Susan G. Komen after backlash over a decision to cut funding for Planned Parenthood. Quigley’s group encourages politicians to oppose abortion vocally, but she acknowledges that’s not exactly what happened with Handel.
“I think she let her record speak for itself. When she was pressed on it in the debate, she said, ‘Look, Planned Parenthood doesn’t do mammograms,'” Quigley said.
“They never really even had to really say abortion,” said Jen Cox with Pave it Blue, a women’s progressive advocacy group that sprung up during the race. Cox says she saw Ossoff talk about the landmark Supreme Court case on abortion, Roe v. Wade, and use the word “choice” at early campaign events, but she says the district’s demographics made it a hard line to walk.
“So you’ve got a very high level of education, mixed with the Bible Belt,” Cox said.
When speaking to audiences beyond his base, Ossoff tended to talk more about women’s health care or focus on less politically fraught services like breast cancer screenings.
It’s not easy to nail down the impact of reproductive rights on the 6th District race, but both women agree the abortion debate was never far below the surface.