By Sarah Ferris - 09/17/14 06:00 AM EDT
Anti-abortion activists plan to use new evidence that Obama-Care has paid for abortions to boost GOP turnout in battleground Senate races this fall.
Conservative groups will deploy new attacks against taxpayer-funded abortions in their effort to unseat vulnerable Democrats who have supported the Affordable Care Act in such states as Louisiana, North Carolina and Arkansas.
Now, with fewer than 50 days before Election Day, conservatives are eager to use the ammunition after largely avoiding the healthcare law on the campaign trail for months.
And in an election where support among women is critical, Republicans will also call attention to public funding for abortion, which a majority of the public opposes.
The biggest targets — and keys to the six seats Republicans need for a Senate majority — are Sens. Mary LandrieuMary LandrieuLouisiana needs Caroline Fayard as its new senator La. Senate contender books seven-figure ad buy Crowded field muddies polling in Louisiana Senate race MORE (D-La.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), who all voted for the healthcare law in 2010 and represent conservative-leaning states that opposed President Obama in 2012.
“Democrats like Mary Landrieu, Mark Pryor and Kay Hagan helped Harry Reid stand in the way of House legislation to prevent taxpayer dollars from covering abortions under ObamaCare,” Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Preibus said in a statement Tuesday. “It’s time we voted them out and elected someone who will be part of the solution, not the problem.”
Anti-abortion groups such as the National Right to Life and Susan B. Anthony List have also seized on the report to attack Democrats, calling it “a critical moment” for their cause.
In a statement Tuesday, the National Right to Life’s chief lobbyist, Douglas Johnson, said Landrieu, Hagan and Pryor — along with vulnerable Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) — are “responsible for this scandal.”
Mallory Quigley, a spokeswoman for SBA List, said their organization has already launched a major offensive on reproductive issues in Louisiana, North Carolina and Arkansas this fall to tilt support toward the GOP.
“This is going to give us more ammo going into the last 50 days before the election to point out the radical differences between these senators and their constituents, who are pro-life,” she said.
Opinions on abortion are almost equally split nationwide, with 47 percent of people describing themselves as “pro-choice” and 46 percent of people identifying as “pro-life,” according to a May Gallup poll. And just 39 percent of people believe public funds should be available for women seeking abortions, a February CNN poll found.
But supporters of abortion rights, including well-funded Planned Parenthood, believe a burst of abortion-related messaging could also fire up voters on their side of the debate.
“We welcome any conversation about abortion access. In fact, we know that women and men are motivated by these issues and that they’re ready to vote in support of the candidates who will protect access to safe and legal abortion, not take it away,” said Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.
While ObamaCare has largely been absent from GOP messaging as Democrats have touted the law’s successes, reproductive rights have been a major focus in tight Senate races.
SBA List unleashed a barrage of criticism last month against Landrieu, Hagan and Pryor for opposing a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks.
Planned Parenthood’s political arms, among this cycle’s top outside spenders, are on track to spend more than $16 million on the midterms, including $3 million in North Carolina to defend Hagan.
At the same time, another abortion rights group is working to keep the issue of abortion out of competitive races in socially conservative states. EMILY’s List, the influential group that backs female pro-choice women, has pulled back its messaging in key Senate districts where abortion is more controversial, even among Democrats. Instead, candidates are talking up education and the economy.
But the issue of abortion — and ObamaCare — was jolted back to life following the GAO report. The issue lies with the complex way that women are billed for abortions. As part of a key compromise to pass the law in 2010, insurers must charge separately for an abortion to ensure that federal subsidies never mix with abortion payments. If the transactions are not separated, Republicans say the abortions are essentially funded by tax money.
The report, however, does not say how many abortions were funded in this way.
Benjamin Clapper, an anti-abortion rights activist in Louisiana who works for the National Right to Life, said people in his “pro-life” home state will be even more critical of Landrieu’s support for ObamaCare amid reports of publicly funded abortions.
“We almost step into another arena, where it’s not just about the morality of abortion, but it’s also about the government’s role in abortion,” Clapper said.
The audit also found apparent violations of the law affecting hundreds of thousands of people. Five states, including New Jersey and Connecticut, allow abortions to be covered under all insurance plans, violating the requirement that every state offer at least one plan that does not cover abortions.
Federal officials have said that some of the compliance issues result from a misunderstanding between states and insurance providers. Ben Wakana, a spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said officials would ensure that both groups “fully understand and comply with the federal law prohibiting the use of federal funds for abortions.”
Republican leaders, who had commissioned the study, were quick to deploy the findings as attacks against Obama.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) blasted the Obama administration for a lack of transparency on the politically charged issue of abortions.
“When jamming the law through Congress, the administration and Washington Democrats insisted that Obamacare would not fund abortions. The harsh and sad reality that today’s GAO report confirmed is that there is little the administration is doing to live up to that promise,” McCarthy said.