Abortion bill hit home for GA Rep. Ron Stephens

Posted on April 1, 2012

Savannah Morning News, April 1, 2012 by Larry Peterson

A tea party group wants state Rep. Ron Stephens ousted because he didn’t back this year’s farthest reaching anti-abortion measure.

Stephens is one of 17 House Republicans the Peach Tea Party scolded on Monday for failing to vote to reduce from 26 weeks to 20 the period when a woman could end a pregnancy.

But few members of the Brunswick-based group likely have had to walk in the Savannah lawmaker’s shoes — or those of his daughter, Ashlin.

If the measure were law a few years ago, Stephens says, she would have had to carry to term a baby that would have lived only seconds after birth.

Stephens said Ashlin’s baby had an acute chromosomal malady known as trisomy.

“At five months, they told her part of her baby’s brain was outside the skull and the heart was inverted,” he said. “They said it would take only one or two breaths. She would have watched it die.”

After huddling with her family, she opted for an abortion.

When the bill initially came to a vote in the House, there was no opportunity to amend it to provide exceptions for such situations.

Stephens said he was so upset he felt sick and walked off the floor during the roll call.

“For something this cruel to happen to my daughter, or anyone’s daughter,” he said, “is just plain inhumane.

“I consider myself pro-life, but this provision was a distortion of pro-life values.”

The Peach Tea Party, headed by former state Sen. Jeff Chapman, lit into Stephens and the other Republicans who failed to support the bill.

It said they “displayed a willingness to depart from the conservative principles that form the bedrock of the Georgia Republican Party platform.”

One blog on the group’s website refers to such lawmakers as “RINOs” — an ancronym standing for “Republicans in name only.”

Stephens is a member of the House GOP leadership team.

He was the lead author of the 2000 Stephens-Day law, which saved many local homeowners thousands of dollars in property taxes in recent years. It applies only to Chatham County but has since been adopted in other areas.

The Peach Tea Party said it would encourage and support challengers to Stephens and the others in this year’s GOP primaries.

As things turned out, the abortion bill was amended Thursday in the final hours of the legislative session to exempt “medically futile” pregnancies.

Stephens voted for the amended version, which passed.

But the Peach Tea Party also has chided Stephens and other GOP lawmakers for backing a bill to ban discrimination in public hiring based on sexual orientation or gender.

Even though it never came up for a vote, the tea party group cited the legislators’ support for it as evidence that the House GOP leadership lacks a “moral center.”

Stephens said he views the issue differently.

“I believe public agencies should hire a person who can do the job well, regardless of age, gender, race, creed, sexual orientation or what planet you’re from,” he said.

Stephens said he respects the tea party movement, but added that he sometimes thinks “we’d be better off if they focused on taxes and spending.”

Neither Chapman, a former Republican candidate for governor, nor his group responded to requests for comment.

But Marolyn Overton, co-founder of the Savannah Tea Party, said she wouldn’t support a primary challenge to Stephens.

“I’ve been very pleased with Ron,” Overton said. “He’s been very responsive. And he’s voted on a lot of bills they way I would have wanted him to vote.”

Savannah College of Art and Design political science professor Robert Eisinger downplayed the seriousness of any primary challenge to Stephens.

“It doesn’t seem to be the sort of thing that should bother him very much,” said Eisinger, also the dean of SCAD’s school of liberal arts.

“It doesn’t,” Stephens said. “It might even help me with fundraising.”

In any case, Stephens’ family long bore the emotional scars of what happened to Ashlin and her baby.

There’s a saying that time heals all wounds, but something else has eased helped the family forget the pain.

Three months ago, Ashlin gave birth to a healthy baby girl, Ivey.

“She’s just beautiful,” Stephens said.

Posted in: Georgia