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Georgia Prosecutor Says He Won't Bring Charges Against Doctors Who Perform Abortions

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

As more states pass laws outlawing nearly all abortions, some prosecutors are saying they will not enforce these laws. Georgia's new law bans most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. The penalty could be up to 10 years in prison.

David Cooke is the top prosecutor in Macon, Ga., about 80 miles southeast of Atlanta. And he joins us to explain why he won't bring charges under this law. Welcome.

DAVID COOKE: Thanks. I'm glad to be here.

SHAPIRO: I want to begin by saying that the Georgia law, as well as those in other states, these laws are all on hold while they're being challenged in court. So is your statement that you're not going to bring prosecutions purely hypothetical for now?

COOKE: I responded to questions about it that were asked by local media and by my constituents. They wanted to know what was going to happen once this law came into effect. So I just went straight to it. I looked at it. And I said, this law is unconstitutional, and I'm not going to enforce it.

SHAPIRO: Unconstitutional because of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade. Many opponents of abortion are hoping that the Supreme Court will strike down the Roe v. Wade decision. Would that change your calculus?

COOKE: Right now, I'm looking that this violates the supreme law of the land. So based on that, I'm saying what my oath requires me to do. Now, if the law changes, then maybe I'll need to do something else.

SHAPIRO: I just want to be clear - when you say unconstitutional, are you strictly referring to the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision or is there something else in the Constitution that you think makes this law illegitimate regardless what the Supreme Court might say?

COOKE: I think that Roe v. Wade, as based on Griswold v. Connecticut, recognizes the right to privacy. And so based on that, this law is unconstitutional.

SHAPIRO: If the Supreme Court strikes down Roe v. Wade, it's still not entirely clear to me whether you would then comply with this state law as written.

COOKE: I think if Roe v. Wade is overturned or struck down, then the consequences are going to be far greater than just abortion. Now, if someone performs an abortion and that causes a woman to die or does something terrible and this is the law that I have to work with to hold them accountable, then of course I would need to do something in that circumstance and prosecute them not only for violating the law, but really something that's immoral and wrong in that they were careless and killed a woman. So there are complicated situations that are going to come out of this if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

SHAPIRO: The Georgia law includes only limited exceptions for rape or incest. You worked as a prosecutor in Georgia's sex crimes unit. Did that experience - interacting with victims of rape and incest - affect your view here?

COOKE: Well, let me just say that I've spent my entire career protecting women and children and doing everything I can to get justice for them. And I'm not about to abandon them now. And that helped inform my decision, too.

Now, I need to say, as the law is written right now, it says that there are exceptions for rape or incest, but it requires a police report to be filed. Now, we know that's not how that works, that most victims of rape or incest or other types of sexual assault never report their crimes. And those that do report them report it years or months later. It's not like they're going to do that immediately. That's just not what the data and our experience shows.

SHAPIRO: What about the prosecutors who think your decision not to prosecute under this is an inappropriate call for a prosecutor to make?

COOKE: I think they disagree on my analysis, but I don't think they can legitimately say that it's not my call to make. When you're the district attorney, the buck stops with you. You decide where to concentrate your prosecutorial resources. I prefer to use those resources to go after the people who threaten our families the most - rapists and murderers and gang members and people who destabilize our society. That is what I prefer to do.

SHAPIRO: David Cooke, district attorney in Macon, Ga. Thank you very much for talking with us today.

COOKE: Glad to. It was great. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.