GOP Places Big Wager on Anti-Abortion Vote in 2014

Sharon Johnson Aug 5, 2013

The GOP's steady drumbeat of laws restricting abortion signals the party's strategy to make an election issue out of a social issue that–unlike same-sex marriage–still finds Americans still deeply divided.

This summer, three Republican governors signed bills that dramatically restrict access to abortion.

In Texas, Gov. Rick Perry signed legislation banning abortion after 20 weeks' pregnancy, four weeks earlier than the standard set in 1972 by Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision guaranteeing abortions as part of a woman's right to privacy.

In Ohio, Gov. John Kasich signed a budget bill that would redefine a fetus as "developing from the moment of conception" and would fund "crisis pregnancy centers," which steer women away from abortion.

And in Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker signed legislation requiring a woman to have an ultrasound before completing the procedure.

These laws are part of the Republican Party's strategy to boost turnout in the November 2014 midterm election, says Terry O'Neill, president and CEO of the Washington-based National Organization for Women (NOW), the largest women's rights organization in the United States.

"Historically, only 40 percent of eligible voters turn out in midterm elections," she said. "Republican governors and legislatures are counting on the 43 anti-abortion laws passed so far this year to boost turnout of men, whites, seniors, married people and the affluent, who tend to be socially conservative."

The big prize would be winning six seats in the U.S. Senate and taking control of that upper chamber, a bulwark against the GOP-dominated U.S. House.

Republicans also want to repeat their record gains in state races in 2010 when they took eight governorships away from Democrats and assumed total control of 25 out of 50 state legislatures, the highest mark since 1952. In his Aug. 1 analysis, Larry J. Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center on Politics in Charlottesville, pointed out that generally speaking, the president's party pays a price for holding the White House and that like other parties of presidents, the Democrats may be in a weaker position in the states, as well as Congress, when President Barack Obama leaves office in 2016.

Division Over Abortion

"The GOP is emphasizing abortion because unlike Americans' attitudes on other social issues, such as same-sex marriage, which have become more liberal over the years, Americans are still divided on abortion," said NOW's O'Neill in a phone interview.

Fifty-five percent of Americans said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, found a Washington Post-ABC News poll released July 25. Forty-one percent said abortion should be illegal in most or all cases, a finding similar to a 2012 Post-ABC poll and other surveys in recent years.

The same poll found that by more than 2-to-1, Americans would prefer that abortion laws be decided nationally in the Constitution, rather than state by state.

State anti-abortion laws will help Republicans capitalize on the redistricting that followed the 2010 U.S. Census, predicted Susan J. Carroll, senior scholar of the Center for American Women and Politics of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

"Although House Democrats won a plurality of over 1.4 million voters in 2012, Republicans were able to retain their 34-vote majority because Democrats lost seats in cities and areas with high minority populations that tend to vote Democratic," she said.

"Midterm elections tend to be a referendum on the president and his party," Carroll said. "In the last 21 midterm electrons, the president's party lost an average of 30 seats in the House and four in the Senate, which would take a serious toll on President Obama's plans for immigration reform and gun control legislation."

She added that in 2010, 82.5 million Americans turned out because of widespread concern about Obama's and the Democrats' handling of the economy

"Although unemployment is still high, the economy is doing better so Republicans must tap opposition to other issues, such as President Obama's Affordable Care Act," she said in a phone interview.

In Pennsylvania, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, who faces a tough reelection fight, signed a bill June 17 that bars the health care exchanges, which will provide insurance for low-income people under the Affordable Care Act, from providing abortion services.

Rising American Electorate

To defeat Republicans in the midterm elections, Democrats will need a large turnout of what Page Gardner,president of Women's Voices Women Vote Action Fund, calls the "rising American electorate": unmarried women, 18-to-29-year-olds and people of color, who made up 48 percent of voters in 2012.

In 2012 unmarried women made up 24 percent of the overall electorate and two-thirds of them cast ballots for Obama.

"The rising American electorate is among the fastest growing segment of the voting population so Democrats can't afford to lose them," said Gardner, who founded the Washington-based nonprofit organization in 2005 to increase voter participation of unmarried women.

A national survey sponsored by Gardner's fund found that the rising American electorate is less likely to vote in 2014 than they did in 2012. Eighty-three percent of minority voters and 82 percent of unmarried women and youth voters said they would turn out compared to 92 percent of other voters.

Although the survey by the Washington-based polling firms Greenburg Quinlan Rosner Research and Democracy Corps did not ask participants' views on abortion, the poll did find overwhelming support among all Americans voters for proposals that would provide women equal treatment in the workplace and help them achieve a work-family balance.

Women favor Democrats on abortion by 52 percent to 32 percent for Republicans, found a poll by theWashington-based Pew Research Center in April 2012.

The nonpartisan think tank, which does research on demographic trends, found women were more likely than men to view abortion as a top issue: 44 percent of women said abortion could be very important to their vote in November 2012; only 34 percent of men ranked abortion as very important.

This article originally appeared on Women's ENews.

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