Abortion groups target swing-state voters

Groups on both sides of the abortion debate are focusing their advertising on swing-state voters in the closing weeks of the presidential campaign.

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As Mitt Romney nabbed headlines with his comment that abortion bills would not be part of his agenda, voters in four swing states were already viewing a slew of ads from Planned Parenthood's political wing, on the left, and the Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List, on the right.

The two groups have spoken loudest for their sides of the abortion debate this presidential election, particularly through television spots aimed at convincing undecided voters of the dangers of the opposing candidate.

In their ads, Planned Parenthood's political arms argue that Romney jeopardizes healthcare for low-income women when he vows to cut off funding for the group. Romney argues that federal funds need not support a major provider of abortions.

The SBA List, meanwhile, paints President Obama as an extremist on abortion, highlighting his opposition as a state legislator to a bill the group says was meant to protect vulnerable infants. Obama has defended his vote, saying the measure would have hurt doctors and undermined Roe v. Wade.

Overall, Planned Parenthood's political wing has spent roughly five times more than the SBA List on swing-state ads, which will continue airing next week.

Experts told The Hill that the television spots can create a sense of rapport between candidates and potential voters by sending broad signals about cultural values.

"Those kinds of [abortion-related issue] ads tap into the character of the candidates," said Jennifer Lawless, director of the Women and Politics Institute at American University.

"You learn a lot about whether a candidate shares your values by what they say about women's health and reproductive freedom," she said.

The spending disparity means that the SBA List faces an uphill messaging battle against Planned Parenthood. In the coming week, its super PAC will run one ad in Virginia, while television spots from Planned Parenthood's political wing remain in circulation in Virginia, Ohio and Colorado.

In total, the SBA List and its affiliates have spent just over $1 million on television advertising against Obama, compared with about $5.7 million spent by Planned Parenthood's political wing against Romney.

NARAL Pro-Choice America, another Obama backer, has also pledged between $2.5 million and $3 million toward efforts to sway voters.

But a spokeswoman for the SBA List said the funding disparity is "no different this year than from past election cycles."

"It’s no secret that the abortion lobby has wealthy supporters in Hollywood and among the elite, but Planned Parenthood is also subsidized by the government," Mallory Quigley said in a statement to The Hill.

"During 2009-2010, Planned Parenthood received $487 million in taxpayer funding which has allowed them to free up other funds and become a cash cow for the president’s reelection campaign," she said.

Planned Parenthood Action Fund (PPAF) and Planned Parenthood Votes, which fund election-cycle ads, are separate from Planned Parenthood Federation of America, which provides healthcare services.

An official with PPAF said that her group "only engages in legislative and political battles to protect women’s health and access to care."

She called Romney's stance against abortion rights "dangerous."

"Women’s health is very much on the ballot this November, which is why the Planned Parenthood Action Fund has launched our biggest-ever campaign effort to ensure women know what’s at stake when they go to the polls," said PPAF Executive Vice President Dawn Laguens in a statement.

Election ads sponsored by PPAF have tended to tout the importance of Planned Parenthood clinics and the preventive healthcare services they provide.

The SBA List's latest ad, meanwhile, hammers Obama for his vote against the Born-Alive Infants Protection Act when he was a state legislator in Illinois.

Obama has defended his vote, saying the measure would harm doctors and sought to undermine Roe v. Wade by giving rights to pre-viable fetuses.

But experts expressed skepticism that either message will attract undecided voters this late in the election cycle. The ads serve one purpose, they said: voter turnout.

"Undecided voters are still making decisions … but if these groups are sending out messages, they're to remind people who are already on their side of the issue to come out and vote," said Ruth Mandel, director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University.