Democratic Strategy in Georgia after Dobbs 

By Crystal Bui


In May 2022, the strategy for Georgia Democrats in the battleground state evolved when the Dobbs v. Jackson decision was leaked. Once official, Georgia’s own “trigger laws” would become the law of the land. Any bans or stipulations on abortion that were written to take effect would do so immediately if Roe v. Wade was overturned, either by state official certification or 30 days after the Roe decision. Seemingly overnight, Georgia now had one of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country. Georgia now bans terminating a pregnancy once a doctor can detect cardiac activity, which is generally around six weeks – a time when many women may not even know they are pregnant. 

This significant moment in history mobilized Georgia Democrats. Party leaders began recruiting more physicians to run for office at every level, wagering that candidates with a medical degree and first-hand experience understanding how public health policy affects patients would help flip Republican seats. And now, for those who aren’t ready to fully step into the spotlight, a different strategy: if those physicians don’t want to be on the ballot, let them share their knowledge, and their stories with lawmakers. 

This represents the last in a three-article series highlighting political strategy in the upcoming pivotal 2024 elections.

Refusing to be Sidelined 

Dr. Nisha Verma is an OB-GYN and abortion care provider in Atlanta. While she hasn’t decided to run for office, she has decided there was a way to help the Democratic party – and patients – from within. 

Most of us don’t go into medicine to be in politics. In medicine, you want to be able to take care of your patients, but so much of what we can do and our patients’ healthcare is affected by policy.

Verma says her primary goal has always been to put her patients first. Still, it had become clear practicing in her office while watching lawmakers make decisions directly affecting her and those she was caretaking, that this hands-off approach was not going to work. Verma elaborated,

I also felt like it was really important to use my power, my privilege, my voice, to advocate on a policy level for my patients. And so I started engaging in political work. 

An Early Start

Verma’s work behind the scenes began in residency where she joined advocacy groups and began submitting letters to the editor and opinion editorials. She began building a portfolio that allowed her to secure research grants focusing on the intersection of healthcare and policy. Through the grants, she produced data that could shift policy. Verma wasn’t a policymaker, but she was working on policy in her own way. 

She also is involved with Physicians for Reproductive Health. Verma’s rise in the party continued when she testified for two different House of Representatives committees, and then was later invited to testify in front of the Senate. Describing the situation, she said,

When you hear these political discussions, they’re so polarized. Issues like abortion care are made into these political issues and completely removed from the healthcare space. Currently, we’re practicing in an environment where we are not able to do it […] we face the threat of criminalization.

Getting the Right Attention

During that testimony in the Senate, Verma emphasized how the current reproductive healthcare policy restricts the way physicians can provide the best care for their patients.

“Georgia’s law forces me to grapple with impossible situations where state laws directly violate the medical expertise I gained through years of training and the oath I took to provide the best care to my patients. Because of a law that is not based in medicine or science, I am forced to turn away patients that I know how to care for,” Verma said, in April. “Research shows that women who were denied abortion care are more likely to experience high blood pressure and other serious medical conditions during the end of pregnancy; more likely to remain in relationships where interpersonal violence is present; and more likely to experience poverty.”

Verma was able to add faces to the stories of the women affected by the stringent abortion policy in front of the committee.

I know first-hand that patients are capable of making complex, thoughtful decisions about their health and lives. Patients decide to continue or to end pregnancies for many reasons, and it should not be up to me or the government to decide which of those reasons are valid.

Verma said that doctors’ voices are often missing from the conversation, so it became more important for her to speak up and make clearer how these decisions affect patients to legislators who don’t regularly have to interact with patients.

“I wasn’t necessarily trying to change Ted Cruz or Lindsey Graham’s opinion – those were two of the Republican Senators on that committee that I was speaking to. That is not the best use of my efforts to try to shift their opinion,” Verma said. “When we testify and use our voices in these forums, there’s other people listening – direct audiences and indirect audiences. Even though I’m directly talking to Ted Cruz and Lindsey Graham, there are many members of the public there: there is media, there are people who are actually listening that are open to hearing about the complexity of abortion care, the impact of these restrictions on people’s lives.”

Another Physician Stepping Up

Angela Fusaro is an emergency room physician turned campaign manager. In 2018, she didn’t have an interest in running for office in Georgia but was alarmed by politicians getting involved with her patients’ lives. She felt there needed to be diversity in representation at all levels – including having physicians involved in politics. 

Lawmakers trying to get involved […] I just felt like it was a violation of the integrity of medicine, and which to me is not a political issue.

She knew she wanted to be able to help other women succeed on the front lines. Fusaro worked as a campaign manager for a longtime friend she knew in business school.

The Effects, Big and Small

Han Pham, executive director of Her Term, says that Fusaro’s skillset – from physician to behind-the-scenes strategic advisor – made her an asset to the Democratic party. 

She’s very good at organizing people. She’s very good at maintaining and figuring out how to use her time. And she’s good at really listening hard and being able to assess and diagnose the problem, which, honestly, a lot of times, that’s all it is, right? […] It’s all about diagnosing what that problem is, and figuring out a plan and executing on the plan.

From Campaigning To Storytelling

That work also propelled Fusaro into a different project – entrepreneurship. She decided to reach out to every woman elected to statewide office in the United States for the first time. Fusaro was compelled by the richness of all the stories of the women who were breaking barriers – and the various careers they came from that weren’t the traditional law school or political science degrees. The passion and pride Fusaro found in these conversations was evident as she said,

Most of them were not lifetime politicians – they were moms and they were professionals and they were athletes. My husband and I ended up writing a book that was a compilation of their stories, their backstories. Looking back at that, I’m so glad that we did that as a small way to immortalize like that moment in history. 

She published, “Restoring the Balance: Stories and Advice From the Women of the Historic 2018 Election.”

For Fusaro, this was the ability to show that traditional pedigrees weren’t necessarily needed in politics. The more she shared the stories, the more physicians – and other experts – may be emboldened and inspired to jump into the pool and contribute to the movement that Georgia Democrats hope will win more seats in 2024.

If we could amplify each of these individual stories and put them together in one place, one could appreciate better how this movement had come together.

As Georgia steps back into the national spotlight the closer November 2024 approaches, the Democrats’ three-prong focus to bring physicians into all levels of government – including behind the scenes – will be put to the test in this post-Roe v. Wade and post-pandemic age. Voters will decide whether they want to keep electing politicians with traditional law and political science degrees or if they believe a new group of officials sporting a surge of medical degrees pushing public health policy outside hospital walls is just what the state and country needs