Abortion wars flare for midterm election campaign

Abortion wars flare for midterm election campaign
© Getty

President TrumpDonald TrumpMyPillow CEO to pull ads from Fox News Haaland, Native American leaders press for Indigenous land protections Simone Biles, Vince Lombardi and the courage to walk away MORE and anti-abortion activists this week touted recent actions restricting abortion as helping to galvanize Republican voters for the midterm elections.

But Democrats see it the other way around, arguing Trump’s actions to defund Planned Parenthood and roll back ObamaCare’s contraception mandate are going to hurt, not help, Republican candidates on the ballot in November.

Both sides believe they have the upper hand, making the election a litmus test for public opinion that could shape the messaging of both parties heading into the 2020 presidential election.

“This is just going to encourage women across the country — not just Democrats, but Republicans and independents — to come out and support pro-choice candidates who are going to stand up to these unconstitutional attacks on our health care,” said Alexandra De Luca, press secretary for EMILY’s List, a group that supports pro-abortion rights women running for office.  


“Republicans are moving so far to the right, they actually risk alienating not just moderates, but some members of their own base who are concerned with how radical this Republican Party is going to go.”  

Speaking at an annual anti-abortion fundraiser Tuesday, Trump touted his administration’s recently announced proposal to ban recipients of federal family planning money from referring patients for abortions, or sharing locations with abortion providers.  

Supporters of the move called it a direct attack on federal support for Planned Parenthood, which receives millions every year from Title X, a $286 million program that funds organizations providing family planning services to low-income women and men. 

Anti-abortion groups pushed the Trump administration to quickly make the Title X changes before the midterms to energize the grass roots, especially following Congress’s failure to defund Planned Parenthood legislatively. 

“We read it as desperation over here,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, referring to the Title X announcement. 

“They’re seeing flat numbers, while ours are climbing all over the country. They know their only option is to throw red meat at their base.”  

Democrats, who call the restrictions a “gag rule,” hope to portray the proposal as another example of Republicans taking extreme actions to limit women’s health care.  

“The Trump-Pence gag rule is going to cost them in the midterms,” said Erica Sackin, political director for the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.  

“The Trump-Pence administration is trying to implement a domestic gag rule that will block women from accessing birth control and cancer screenings. Women will again respond — this time by voting out candidates who continue to attack women's health and rights.”

Democrats also point to the explosion of women running for office, and the heavy attendance at women’s marches, as proof that the Trump administration’s move on abortion and birth control will backfire.

Groups opposing and supporting abortion are pouring millions into the midterms, breaking their own records for campaign spending. 

Planned Parenthood in March announced a $20 million campaign targeting eight states, the largest such effort it’s ever undertaken. 

The anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List isn’t just trying to match that, but surpass it, with a goal of raising and spending $25 million. 

And NARAL this week announced its largest-ever midterm investment of $5 million in 19 states. 

The stakes in the election are high for both sides.

Anti-abortion advocates want more Republicans in the Senate so they can pass a ban on abortions after 20 weeks, defund Planned Parenthood and approve any future Supreme Court nominees. 

Democrats want to gain control of both chambers so they can block such bills and fight back against policy changes from the administration. 

Trump has already given anti-abortion activists plenty of reasons to celebrate. 

In his year and a half in office, he has banned the use of tax dollars for foreign nongovernmental organizations that provide or promote abortions; broadened exemptions for employers who have moral or religious objections to providing birth control to their employees and rescinded Obama-era guidance that sought to protect Planned Parenthood from state defunding efforts.   

Fresh off those victories, anti-abortion groups are openly talking about ways to roll back Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court ruling that enshrined abortion rights.

“If we elect a pro-life Senate this year, we have a fighting chance to do what the pro-life movement has wanted since 1972: overturn that great stain on our national conscience, Roe v. Wade,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which held its annual gala Tuesday with Trump as the keynote speaker. 

Democrats say such talk will scare away moderate and independent voters. 

A January poll from the Pew Research Center showed 69 percent of Americans oppose overturning Roe v. Wade, with 28 percent supporting. 

“It is very scary just the fact that Republicans are talking about Roe v. Wade,” De Luca said.  

“Under this president, who has prioritized an agenda that rolls back women’s rights, of course they’re having conversations about rolling back Roe v. Wade, and it is scaring women across the country.” 

But Republicans say it’s the Democrats who are out of step with public opinion.

“On this issue, like so many other issues, the Democratic Party is far outside the American mainstream,” Trump said at the gala.