Policy

Sparring Over Women’s Health in Georgia’s 6th District

Handel, Ossoff trade jabs over Planned Parenthood

Karen Handel, candidate for the Georgia 6th Congressional district, speaks with reporters during a campaign stop at Rhea’s restaurant in Roswell, Ga., on Monday, April 17, 2017, one day before the special election to fill Tom Price’s seat . (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

As the June 20 runoff election in Georgia’s 6th district approaches, Democrat Jon Ossoff and Republican Karen Handel are facing off with competing ads on women’s health and anti-abortion groups have joined in the fight.

Ossoff’s broadcast cable ad, released Tuesday, features an ob-gyn doctor criticizing Handel for her move to “cut off funding for Planned Parenthood cancer screenings when she was an executive at Susan G. Komen.”

Handel, then senior vice president of public policy at Susan G. Komen Foundation, spearheaded the organization’s decision to stop funding cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood. When the foundation overturned that decision, Handel resigned.

On Thursday, in response to Ossoff’s ad, Handel shot back with a digital ad featuring a female cancer survivor. “Karen is one of the strongest advocates for women’s health I know. She stands up for us and she stands by us when we need her most,” the ad’s narrator states.

“We always knew Jon Ossoff would lie and distort in order to get back to Washington. I am proud to have advocated for women’s health issues for virtually my entire adult life and will fight every day in Congress for Georgia women and their families,” said Handel in a statement.

Ossoff hosted on Friday afternoon a women’s health roundtable in the Atlanta suburb of Roswell to discuss various aspects of keeping health care affordable.

The campaigns are also at odds over the House health care bill, which would eliminate Medicaid reimbursements to Planned Parenthood for one year and increase funding for other community health centers that do not perform abortions.

Georgia’s 6th District does not have a Planned Parenthood clinic. While there is a clinic in Marietta, it falls into GOP Rep. Barry Loudermilk’s district. There is also a nearby clinic in Atlanta. In the 6th District, there are four community health clinics that are not affiliated with Planned Parenthood.

Handel wants to increase funding to community health clinics that do not provide abortions and said that opposition to the House bill would shift money out of her district.

The House health care bill would also cut the growth of overall health care coverage, including $880 billion to Medicaid over a decade, which would provide funding for patients using these health centers.

Ossoff, like other Democrats, is opposed to these cuts to Planned Parenthood, but said he is not in favor of decreased funding for women’s health as Handel alleges. Women who live within the 6th District still travel to those other nearby clinics.

“Jon supports access to affordable, quality health care, wherever a woman, her family, or her doctor decides she should go, and this should not be a political issue — yet Karen Handel’s decision to end funding for lifesaving breast cancer screenings while at Susan G. Komen was purely motivated by her own personal political agenda,” said Sacha Haworth, senior communications adviser for Ossoff.

Ossoff’s ad is also inciting action from anti-abortion groups.

Groups that oppose abortion and support Handel, such as National Right to Life and Susan B. Anthony List, note that Planned Parenthood does not provide mammograms. Rather, the group conducts breast exams and refers patients to clinics that do provide this service.

However, Planned Parenthood does screen patients for cervical cancer though human papillomavirus tests and pap smears.

“Aware that it is becoming common knowledge that Planned Parenthood does not provide mammograms, Ossoff’s ad refers to cancer screenings,” said Randall K. O’Bannon, National Right to Life director of education and research. NRLC endorsed Handel in April.

“But Handel never cut cancer screenings when she was Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s senior vice president of public policy, and Planned Parenthood has been doing its own cutting of those services in recent years,” O’Bannon added.

Susan B. Anthony List, which endorsed Handel in March, supports anti-abortion candidates, usually women, running for office.

“In her role at the Susan G. Komen Foundation, Karen took a courageous stand against Planned Parenthood’s shameless bullying. She was instrumental in exposing the abortion giant’s deception and did so with great integrity,” said SBA List president Marjorie Dannenfelser.

The House seat, previously held by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, has received national attention with President Donald Trump and Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin aiding Handel and Democrats raising millions for Ossoff.

This is Ossoff’s first time running for office. Handel previously served as secretary of state of Georgia in 2006 and ran unsuccessfully for both governor in 2010 and Senate in 2014.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone or your Android.