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Another issue of contention is the federally financed family planning program known as Title X. Romney has proposed ending the program, as well as all other federal money for Planned Parenthood. Obama supporters say this could be harmful to the large numbers of women who rely on Planned Parenthood clinics for affordable birth control, breast-cancer screenings and other services.

Aside from the presidential and congressional elections, there’s a lot riding on the results of state-level elections. Anti-abortion rights activists hope for further gains to accelerate a dramatic trend of the past decade: the enactment of scores of laws restricting access to abortion in states with Republican-controlled legislatures.

Among these measures are laws in several states prohibiting abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, on the disputed premise that fetuses can feel pain at that stage; and a South Dakota law requiring doctors to warn women seeking abortions that they face increased risk of suicide by undergoing the procedure. In Mississippi, the lone abortion clinic is threatened with closure because of a new law requiring abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges.

In some parts of the country, abortion providers already are so scarce that women would have to travel hundreds of miles for an abortion. Election results could reduce access even further in some states.