Abortion foes muscle into 2012 debate

Abortion foes are planning an election-year strategy aimed at forcing President Obama and congressional Democrats to take a potentially damaging stand on the issue.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) on Monday unveiled legislation that would ban abortion in the District of Columbia beyond the 20th week after fertilization. The bill has the blessing of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), which just launched a super-PAC aimed at defeating Obama in November.

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“If at the end of this congressional session, abortion remains unrestricted … in the nation’s capital, it will only be because certain members of Congress — or the president — have obstructed this bill,” NLRC federal legislative director Douglas Johnson said Monday.

“And if they do that, they — and they alone, under the Constitution — are fully accountable for that policy.”

The legislation, called the District of Columbia Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, is modeled after legislation that has been adopted in Nebraska, Kansas, Idaho, Oklahoma and Alabama. It’s unlikely to pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, but the NRLC has made no secret of its wider aim for 2012, which is to defeat the president.

“It should not be a surprise to anyone that the top priority for National Right to Life’s political action committee this year is defeating Barack Obama and electing a pro-life president,” said Carol Tobias, president of National Right to Life.

“Additionally, building upon recent success in five states, National Right to Life will urge Congress to adopt a ban on aborting pain-capable unborn children in the Federal District, and will push for enactment of this ban in several more states.”

Franks said he hopes his bill will draw attention to the abortion issue and remind the public of President Obama’s pro-abortion rights record. He said he hasn’t talked to Republican leaders in Congress about his bill.

The advocates face an uphill fight making abortion a major issue in the November elections, polls suggest.

Respondents to a CBS/New York Times poll earlier this month ranked abortion fifth among five topics that matter most to them in the presidential election, with 3 percent choosing that option; the economy was first, with 56 percent.

And in an ABC News/Washington Post survey that left the question open-ended, abortion did not rank among the top eight issues mentioned by voters.

Anti-abortion groups fault Obama for supporting taxpayer funding for abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood, requiring religiously affiliated health plans to cover birth control and for his two appointments to the Supreme Court.

Franks dropped the bill on the same day that tens of thousands of abortion foes from across the country descended on the capital to mark the 39th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing abortion. The event is typically nonpartisan, with Democrats who oppose abortion often addressing the crowd.

“I come before you as Speaker of the whole House of Representatives and leader of the bipartisan pro-life majority in Congress,” Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) told the crowd. “With your help, this bipartisan majority is standing up for life and working to restore the damage of Roe v. Wade.”

Obama used the anniversary to try to position himself as someone who’s committed “to protecting a woman’s right to choose and this fundamental constitutional right,” he said in a statement Sunday.

“While this is a sensitive and often divisive issue — no matter what our views, we must stay united in our determination to prevent unintended pregnancies, support pregnant woman and mothers, reduce the need for abortion, encourage healthy relationships and promote adoption,” he added.

“And as we remember this historic anniversary, we must also continue our efforts to ensure that our daughters have the same rights, freedoms and opportunities as our sons to fulfill their dreams.”