The hostility surrounding healthcare reform has galvanized both sides of the abortion debate to vigorously campaign in the midterm elections.

Abortion had been a second- or third-tier issue in recent cycles, said Marjorie Dannenfelser, who directs the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA), an anti-abortion-rights group that supports primarily female candidates. "This time it's completely in the light of day. It is top of mind. It is a driving force."


Anti-abortion-rights advocates are enraged over provisions of the Democrats' healthcare reform bill they say allow taxpayer money to subsidize insurance policies that cover elective abortions. Donations are pouring into the group's political arm, the Susan B. Anthony List Candidate Fund, which expects to spend close to $10 million this cycle.

And conservative candidates are competing for its endorsement. "For the first election since 2004, candidates are vying to be the most pro-life," said Dannenfelser. "On the Republican side, anyway."

The group announced it was backing Republican Senate candidate Carly Fiorina in California this week.

It's supporting three two other top-tier female GOP Senate candidates — Nevada Republican Sue Lowden, New Hampshire’s Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyotteUS, allies must stand in united opposition to Iran’s bad behavior American military superiority will fade without bold national action Five possible successors to Mattis MORE and Jane Norton in Colorado.

The group is also trying to unseat some female anti-abortion-rights Democratic House members, such as Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D-Pa.), for voting for the bill.

In California, the group is competing directly with EMILY's List, a group that backs pro-abortion-rights female Democrats.

EMILY's List is vigorously supporting incumbent Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerHispanic civil rights icon endorses Harris for president California AG Becerra included in Bloomberg 50 list Climate debate comes full circle MORE (D-Calif.) in what's expected to be a tough reelection fight.

Its members have also been more active this cycle because of healthcare reform.

“The healthcare debate really energized our members,” said Jonathan Parker, the group's political director.

EMILY’s List donates directly to candidates, but it also uses independent expenditures — an effort directed by Denise Feriozzi -— to mobilize female voters.

"We're doing everything from paid communication — from TV to radio to mail to field — to get the messages out to these women to get them out to vote for our candidates," Parker said.

While the two organizations share parallel if opposite goals, there's no comparison to their budgets: EMILY's List spent $43 million in 2008.

Strategists for the group say they have stretched the playing field to the limit by electing 12 new female members to the House and Senate in recent cycles. It’s now turning its attention to gubernatorial races, backing Alex Sink in the Florida contest.

Dannenfelser said her organization is focused on providing close to $1 million in support to Lowden, and will make significant expenditures on behalf of Fiorina and Norton.

"The full force for a very top-tier candidate for us would be the bundling [of donations], all of the over-air activities — robocalls, TV, radio, all that stuff — but then also on-the-ground activity, grassroots organizing, all that," she said. "One or all of those things may apply."

EMILY's List strategists don't anticipate its candidates will be focused on the abortion issue, but instead will zero in on the economy and jobs.

Dannenfelser says the debate won't fade into the background.

"This [cycle] looks a little bit more like ’94 or 2004 when all the polls showed that moral issues were a top-of-mind motivating factor in why people voted," she said. "When that happens, the much larger increment went to Republican candidates."

Updated May 4, 3:51 p.m.

(The group has not endorsed Ayotte in New Hampshire. "SBA is considering Kelly Ayotte for a possible endorsement but has not made a final decision yet," a spokesman said.)