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AMC Networks’ Sarah Barnett on Georgia Abortion Law: ‘This Is a Civil Rights Issue’

AMC Entertainment Networks president Sarah Barnett said she is strongly opposed to recent laws that have been signed in states including Georgia to curtail abortion rights, backing up her company’s statement that it will reconsider its work in the state should the restrictions go into effect.

Speaking at the Banff World Media Festival in Canada on Monday, Barnett reiterated her company’s stance that it will “reevaluate” its activity in Georgia if the law is enacted.

“I personally consider this a civil rights issue,” Barnett said during a Q&A session. “If women don’t have reproductive autonomy we can’t participate in society as humans. There is a lot to weigh on.”

Barnett said she believed the Georgia law, and others being passed in other states, will be challenged “and will probably get to the Supreme Court, that appears to be the intention behind this legislation. It’s a particular moment. Any attempt to roll back rights women have acquired is not good for all, for gender equality.”

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a law in May that bans nearly all abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected — often before women even know they’re pregnant. AMC Networks is among companies that have said they will consider leaving the state should the law go into effect, as planned, in January.

“If this highly restrictive legislation goes into effect, we will reevaluate our activity in Georgia. Similar bills – some even more restrictive – have passed in multiple states and have been challenged. This is likely to be a long and complicated fight and we are watching it all very closely,” a spokesperson for AMC Networks said last month.

Complicating the matter for AMC is the fact that “The Walking Dead” has been produced in Georgia since its launch. “The Walking Dead” production team and Georgia crew are tight, and leaving the state would be tough on the show. “‘The Walking Dead’ talks about itself as a family and it really is,” she said. “There are people who have been working on that show for a long time.”

As for the status of “The Walking Dead” and its ratings dips, Barnett said it’s part of an inevitable erosion: “Of course the show has declined,” she said. “The show hit its peak in seventh season, which is unusual. It mirrored such a big story in fragmentation in our industry. Big hits on cable are smaller.”

But, she noted, “The Walking Dead” is still the biggest scripted series on cable, while companion series “Fear the Walking Dead” is ranked third. Another new series, with two female protagonists, is on deck.

“We will continue to look at ‘The Walking Dead’ franchise and universe in a way that is analogous to ‘Star Trek’ or ‘Star Wars’ or Marvel,” she said. “Its gratifying to see this past season, [showrunner] Angela Kang took that show in its 9th season to real creative heights… As long as audiences are into it, we’ll be in it.”

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