- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 23, 2012

President Obama wants to highlight the issue, and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney would rather not talk about it — but abortion and birth control are potent issues in the 2012 campaign.

Meanwhile, despite having a staunchly pro-choice president in the White House, pro-life forces have scored a string of victories at the state level and are hoping to add at least a few more wins in November.

“We are seeing tremendous momentum gathering out there,” said Charmaine Yoest, president and chief executive of Americans United for Life Action. More people are saying, “OK, we may not be able to reverse [Roe v. Wade] today, but there is work we can do today [on a state level] that can make a difference.”

Nationally, the stakes are especially high: The next president will likely have the chance to make one or more Supreme Court appointments and will maintain or repeal the new health-care law, which requires insurance companies to provide birth-control products for free.

“Obamacare” is praised by pro-choice groups for reinforcing women’s fundamental rights to make their own decisions about their reproductive health. Pro-life groups denounce it because it “smuggles” abortion and abortifacients into the nation’s health care, resulting in “the largest expansion of abortion since Roe v. Wade.”

Both presidential candidates are angling to win women’s votes, and abortion is “the most important issue for women,” according to a recent Gallup Poll of registered female voters in 12 swing states. As a result, pro-choice advocacy groups have launched campaigns focusing on what they call Republicans’ “war on women.”

At the Center for Reproductive Rights, for instance, the “Draw the Line” campaign features iconic actress Meryl Streep, who says she’s signing the center’s “Bill of Reproductive Rights” and pointedly asks viewers, “What are you waiting for?”

Elsewhere, an eye-catching video called “My Country, My Choice,” shows 28 presumably naked women covering themselves with signs that ask, “If you don’t trust me with my body, why should I trust you with my country?”

Pro-life forces are busy, too, passing around materials listing “75 of the most egregious acts” by the Obama administration and a point-by-point comparison of the candidates’ quotes on life issues.

They’ve got videos, too: A new spot from Americans United for Life Action and Let Freedom Ring uses footage from Mr. Obama’s 2009 Notre Dame speech, where he said, “Let us work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions.”

“President Obama has not fulfilled his promise to work with people about keeping the abortions down I feel that [speech] was just a political ploy,” replies a disappointed woman who identifies herself as a pro-life Democrat.

Another video, created by Women Speak Out PAC, a group started by the Susan B. Anthony List to speak for pro-life women, is called “Barack Obama: Abortion Radical.”

In campaign appearances, Mr. Romney has said, “I’ll be a pro-life president,” and that he opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest and danger to the life of the mother. He has also said he supports reversing Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court’s 1973 law legalizing abortion in the United States, “because it is bad law and bad medicine,” and he promises — on his first day in office — to start the process of repealing Mr. Obama’s health-care reform law.

The Obama campaign has touted his strong support for abortion rights. A full roster of speakers at the Democratic National Convention, including newly famous birth-control advocate Sandra Fluke, pushed abortion issues. And at the Oct. 16 debate, the president talked four times about federal funding for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the nation’s leading abortion provider.

This brought him kudos from Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, who said Mr. Obama “accurately stated” that birth control and health care “is an economic issue for millions of women.”

Meanwhile, in the states, abortion and related issues are a factor in only a handful of current gubernatorial races — Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire and North Carolina — and could be a factor in Wisconsin, Iowa and Arkansas legislative races.

Any pro-life victories in these races will only add to the successful 2010 election, which brought “a tidal wave” of pro-life lawmakers into office, noted Mrs. Yoest.

The 2010 election had a huge impact on the states, as the pro-life lawmakers produced a record number of bills. More than 90 abortion-restricting provisions passed in 24 states, according to the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute. Lawmakers were not quite as active in 2012 — closer to 40 abortion-related provisions were enacted, Guttmacher said this month.

But at least four states decided to limit abortion coverage in the new health-care system, four states required abortion providers to have local “hospital privileges,” and others limited abortion by gestational age, set pre-abortion requirements or regulated clinics or services, Guttmacher said.

“The most harmful and extreme anti-choice laws” are being challenged in court, said Julie Rikelman, litigation director of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which is holding a gala Wednesday night to celebrate 20 years of defending abortion.

“As of today,” the center “is active in 17 legal challenges in 12 different states”, said Ms. Rikelman. Permanent or preliminary victories have been won Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina and Oklahoma.

Pro-choice state lawmakers are also on the offensive, she noted.

California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Nevada and Washington lawmakers have already passed “Freedom of Choice Acts,” which generally codify the protections of Roe v. Wade. These laws mean abortion will be protected “even if the federal courts further undermine constitutional protection” for that right, she said.

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