Republican Georgia Senate candidate Herschel Walker again denied allegations he paid for a former girlfriend’s abortion in 2009 during the race’s first and only debate on Friday.
The ex-girlfriend of the former NFL running back in question was also the mother of one of Walker’s children, follow-up reporting indicated, and he was alleged to have also urged her to obtain a second abortion. Walker has said the woman is lying.
“I say that was a lie, and I’m not backing down,” Walker said during the debate.
An Emerson poll conducted days after the Daily Beast first published the abortion allegations showed Warnock with a two-point lead. That same poll, conducted in late August, had Walker up by two points. With less than a month until the Nov. 8 midterm election remaining, Warnock holds a 3.3-point lead, according to RealClearPolitics’ average of recent polls.
The race, deemed a toss-up by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, will play a key role in determining which party has control of the Senate in January. Democrats currently hold a marginal 50-50 majority, with Vice President Kamala Harris serving as a tie-breaking vote when needed.
The abortion allegations against Walker, running as a staunchly pro-life Christian, were not broached by Warnock, senior pastor since 2005 of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, but were raised by one of the debate moderators, who then segued to abortion policy following Walker’s denial.
Walker said he supports Georgia’s so-called heartbeat bill and said it was “not true” to say he supports an abortion ban without exception, pointing to the state’s law as evidence.
The bill, passed in 2019, bans abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, generally around six weeks. It does include exceptions for rape and incest, when the mother’s life is at risk, and if a serious medical condition leaves a fetus unviable.
“I’m a Christian, but I’m also representing the people of Georgia, and that’s who I represent,” Walker said of the bill. “So what the people at Georgia stand for, I’m going to stand with them.”
That appears to represent a step back from his stance in May, when he told reporters that “there’s no exception in my mind.”
Abortion has become a central issue in key races across the country following the Supreme Court’s June decision to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision federally guaranteeing abortion access.
Democratic candidates and groups have highlighted abortion access extensively through investments in TV and digital advertisements. According to the Associated Press, Democrats have spent more than $124 million this year on ads that reference abortion — nearly 20 times more than what was spent on abortion-related ads ahead of the 2018 midterms.
Warnock — while a vocal supporter of abortion rights — has not made abortion a primary focus of his campaign advertising. In September, his campaign launched its first ad addressing the topic, focusing on Walker’s past comments favoring a ban without exceptions.
Pressed on Friday to take a clear position on whether the federal government should impose any limitations on abortion, Warnock said he thinks “that the women of this country and the women of this state woke up one summer morning and a core protection that they’ve known for 50 years was taken from them by an extremist Supreme Court.”
“I trust women more than I trust politicians,” he added.
Warnock, whose Ebenezer Baptist pulpit was commanded by the Rev. Martin Luther King at the time of King’s assassination, went on to say that he has “a profound reverence for life and a deep respect for choice.”
“Because I have such a profound reverence for life, it’s one of the reasons why I stood up to address this issue of maternal mortality in our country,” Warnock said, referencing his work with Republican Marco Rubio of Florida to improve maternal health outcomes.
Warnock continued: “The women of Georgia have a clear choice as we’re watching women die. Do you want a senator who wants to control your life? Or do you want a senator who wants to save your life? Well, I want to save your life.”
Warnock’s statement prompted Walker to fire back that Warnock’s support for the Black Lives Matter movement is in conflict with his stance on abortion. “If you think about it, senator, in Atlanta, Ga., there are more Black babies that is aborted than anything,” he said. “So if Black lives matter, why are you not protecting those babies, and instead of aborting those babies, why are you not baptizing those babies?”
Warnock invoked Walker’s previous comments about abortion bans without exception, saying that Walker’s view is “extreme” and “out of touch with Georgia.”
The abortion debate descended into religious-based arguments between the two candidates.
“God gave us a choice, and I respect the right of women to make a decision. These are medical decisions, [and] they are deeply personal,” Warnock said. “Women find themselves in a range of circumstances, and this issue has been far too politicized.”
He added: “Women right now, who may be facing a miscarriage in some cases, are wondering what will happen and how will they have to explain that. I think that’s deeply problematic.”
Walker agreed that “God gave us a choice” but argued that “if you read the Bible more, God said choose life.”
Warnock shot back, “I think [Walker] wants to arrogate to politicians more power than God has.”