- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 19, 2014

Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock are not on any ballot this year, but the failed 2012 Republican Senate hopefuls — and their troubles with the abortion issue — already have made at least one appearance in a 2014 campaign ad.

While not a central part of the midterm debate, abortion is still proving politically potent in a handful of critical Senate races, while voters in three states will be weighing pro-life measures designed to restrict abortions.

Mr. Akin and Mr. Mourdock — who helped undermine their chances to win Senate seats in Missouri and Indiana, respectively, in 2012 with ill-conceived remarks on pregnancy and rape — were recently resurrected in a political ad targeting Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst, who is given a strong chance of capturing an open Senate seat now held by retiring Democrat Tom Harkin.

NARAL Pro-Choice America warned in a 60-second spot that the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List — which backs Ms. Ernst — also supported “people like Todd Akin, who said women’s bodies could prevent pregnancies during ‘legitimate rape.’”

The Susan B. Anthony List also supported “Richard Mourdock, who said pregnancy from rape is ‘something God intended to happen,’” it added.

A second ad from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee attacking Ms. Ernst said the lawmaker’s support for life-begins-at-conception measures means she would outlaw all abortions, even in cases of rape or incest.

At a debate last week, Ms. Ernst embraced her pro-life record, saying she supports both women’s access to birth control and measures that say that life begins at conception.

Democratic opponent Rep. Bruce L. Braley — who has been praised for having a “flawless record” on reproductive rights by NARAL Pro-Choice America — said his Republican rival couldn’t support birth control if she agreed that religious employers can’t be forced to comply with contraception coverage in the health care law.

But Ms. Ernst stood firm. “This is a ploy to scare women,” she said. “I will protect [women’s] right to birth control.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, said the NARAL attack ad against Ms. Ernst was “bizarre,” a sign that NARAL was operating from “a very weak place” politically.

Ms. Ernst is not alone: With both parties desperately trying to sway undecided women voters, Republicans Rep. Cory Gardner in Colorado and Scott Brown in New Hampshire have faced Democratic attacks on their pro-life views in their Senate races.

Incumbent Democrat Sens. Mark Udall of Colorado and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire are also trying to galvanize single women voters with abortion-related ads. Mr. Udall has devoted so many of his campaign ads to upholding women’s reproductive rights that he has earned the nickname “Mark Uterus” in the state.

He and his supporters have criticized the “backward” views of Mr. Gardner, focusing on his past support for Colorado’s pro-life “personhood” amendment and his co-sponsorship of a federal “Life at Conception” bill while in Congress.

“I support life,” Mr. Gardner said at a recent debate. “I’ve voted for exceptions, but the fact is that the [federal] bill that you are talking about is simply a statement that I support life.”

In New Hampshire, Ms. Shaheen, a former governor and familiar face to many voters, has readily touted her long pro-choice record. Her opponent, Scott Brown, however, requires her to use a slightly different playbook since he is a self-described “independent, pro-choice Republican.”

Political scorecards, such as VoteSmart.org, show a mixed abortion record for Mr. Brown: Over the years he has won both 100 percent and 0 percent ratings from pro-choice groups, and only as high as 80 percent from National Right to Life Committee.

Ms. Shaheen has still tried to put Mr. Brown on the defense on women’s issues. However, her campaign recently pulled an ad that said Mr. Brown once backed a bill to “force” women to look at color photographs of a fetus before an abortion could be performed.

Mr. Brown fought back, saying the women’s “right to know” bill — which didn’t pass — would have required doctors to provide images of a developing fetus to women but not force women to look at them. When news stories sided with Mr. Brown, Ms. Shaheen’s campaign office replaced the ad.

Questions on the ballot

The abortion debate isn’t confined this November to individual Senate races.

Voters in Tennessee, North Dakota and Colorado will also weigh in on state constitutional amendments that refer to unborn children and attempt to strengthen state abortion legal restrictions.

In Tennessee, supporters say the goal of Amendment 1 is to restore the right of lawmakers to enact pro-life bills and trump a 2000 Tennessee Supreme Court ruling that has been used to quash laws limiting the availability of abortion.

Similarly, in North Dakota, the “Human Life Amendment” is meant to strengthen the legal status of the state’s abortion statutes, holding that “the inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.”

The so-called Amendment 1 doesn’t undo federal laws, but it will “protect our state laws that are already on the books,” said Janne Myrdal, chair of North Dakota Choose Life.

In Colorado, voters will consider an amendment that would change the state’s criminal code to ensure that if an unborn child is killed in an assault or other criminal act, the perpetrator of the crime can be held accountable for that death. Heather Surovik, whose unborn son Brady was killed when a drunk driver hit them, is pushing the amendment, saying her 8-pound, 2-ounce unborn son “was a person” too.

Supporters do not use — or only sparingly use — the word “personhood” with these amendments; on the Facebook page for “A Voice for Brady,” defenders of the Colorado measure say it is a “fetal homicide” law, analogous to those in 38 other states.

However, amendment opponents in all three states warn that if “fertilized eggs” are given legal rights, abortion will be outlawed, birth control products and in vitro fertilization could be blocked, and women who miscarry could be considered criminals.

“Amendment 67 would invite the government into our personal, private lives. It would criminalize women and their doctors. It goes too far,” according to the literature of “No on 67” in Colorado.

Few polls have been conducted on the measures.

In North Dakota, a recent University of North Dakota poll found about 50 percent of respondents supported Amendment 1, while in Colorado voters opposed Amendment 67 by a 45-35 margin, according to USA Today and Suffolk University. In Tennessee, a May poll by Vanderbilt University found overwhelming rejection of Amendment 1, while a September poll commissioned by Family Research Council Action found that half of likely voters who read the full amendment supported it.

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