The Young Democrats of Emory hosted a town hall with Georgia U.S. Senate candidate Raphael Warnock and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams in which the two discussed reproductive justice, voter suppression and the separation of church and state. Warnock is the leading democratic candidate in the crowded, 21-candidate special election for one of Georgia’s U.S. Senate seats.

The election will determine who will finish the remaining two years of former Sen. John Hardy Isakson’s (R-Ga.) term. Isakson resigned in December 2019 citing health concerns, and Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp appointed businesswoman Kelly Loeffler (R-Ga.) in January 2020 to hold the seat before the special election on Nov. 3.

Eden Yonas (22C), vice president of Young Democrats of Emory, moderated the town hall. To open the event, Yonas introduced Warnock as “a community advocate, servant leader and a champion for civil rights, affordable healthcare and a living wage.”

Warnock has been the senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta for the past 15 years, the same parish Martin Luther King Jr. once presided over. Warnock officiated former Representative and civil rights icon John Lewis’ funeral service at the church on July 30.

Warnock grew up in Savannah, Georgia and was the first in his family to attend college when he obtained a scholarship for Morehouse College (Ga.).

Prominent issues Warnock supports include criminal justice reform, health care reform, voting rights, student debt, infrastructure, reproductive justice and LGBTQ+ rights.

Abrams, a longtime friend of Warnock, was one of the first people to endorse his run for the senate seat on the same day Warnock announced his candidacy on Jan. 30.

“I am voting for Raphael Warnock because I know this person,” Abrams said. “If we send him to D.C., we’ll be sending power to D.C., we will be sending purpose to D.C.”

Abrams is the founder and leader of Fair Fight Action, an organization devoted to combating voter suppression. “If you are prevented from voting,” Abrams said, “it’s voting suppression.”

Warnock and Abrams also spoke about the disparities in health care affordability and the uncertainty of health care laws in the near future. Warnock vowed to reduce the cost of prescription drugs, increase the amount of federal medicaid funding Georgia receives and protect pre-existing conditions through the Affordable Care Act.

“We should be deeply offended as Americans by the high rates women die trying to have babies, particularly states like Georgia,” Warnock said. “My commitment to reproductive justice extends also to making sure we have quality access to health care.” 

Maternal mortality in the U.S. is worse than in many other developed countries. For Black women specifically, Warnock noted, the rates are three to four times higher than non-hispanic white women.

When asked what he would do to address these disparities, Warnock responded “we need to deal with the question of affordability and access, expanding Medicaid and strengthening the Affordable Care Act.”

Warnock said he believes the separation of church and state is a central tenet of democracy after being asked about his position as a pastor while running to be a U.S. Senator.  

“It would be of great value to have a pastor in the Senate say, ‘I find it equally offensive that you would suggest that extending equality to my sister or my brother is somehow an affront to my religious liberty,’” Warnock said.

As required by Georgia State law, if no one candidate achieves more than 50% of the vote, a probable outcome considering the large number of candidates, the top two contenders will compete in a runoff election regardless of political party. Such a runoff would take place on Jan. 5, 2021.

Georgia is the only state to have two Senate seats up for election this year, both previously held by Republicans. The other election is between Republican incumbent Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.) and Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff.