Abortion debate ramps up as parties look to sway voters

The pro-life versus pro-choice debate is reigniting as the 2014 midterm elections near.

The pro-life versus pro-choice debate is reigniting as the 2014 midterm elections near. Candidates from both parties will undoubtedly seize the issue during campaign season, leaving voters to ultimately decide which message is the most powerful.

"Choice is an economic issue and people are starting to see it as such," says Drew Lieberman, VP at Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research. He believes people now understand the issue and the Republican attacks on choice at every level of government.

Discussion has been increasing in the past two years alone, Lieberman adds. Widespread conversations about choice would not have happened even eight years ago and would have been confined to niche groups of women. Now it’s part of a larger narrative, he says.

"When Republicans try to block a woman’s access to abortion care, that is one more thing they’re allowing insurers not to cover," Lieberman explains. "It fits within the whole framework that Republicans are chipping away at, all these things that would help regular people on a day-to-day basis."

Out of touch

The ad is titled Important, has more than 100,000 views on YouTube, and was created by the Obama campaign to attack Mitt Romney’s threat to defund Planned Parenthood.

It runs 30-seconds long and features women who say that Romney is "out of touch." One woman, Alex, says, "This is not the 1950s. Contraception is so important to women."

A video clip of Romney saying, "Planned Parenthood, going to get rid of that," plays right before a woman named Dawn says she believes he would "drag us back."

Democrat advantage
Lieberman believes Democrats currently have an advantage with a pro-choice message because it is more in touch with people, which was made apparent by the 2012 presidential election ads. 

There’s power to be harnessed in social media, too, he says, noting Wendy Davis, who was a top trending topic on Twitter when she filibustered in an effort to postpone a vote on abortion laws in the Texas Senate.

"President Barack Obama was using it on national TV," Lieberman adds. "Mitt Romney wasn’t making a commercial about Obama being pro-choice."

The trend will likely continue among Democratic candidates, especially in an effort to target voters thinking economically.

When a candidate takes what voters consider an extreme position on a woman’s access to abortion, it becomes a focus of the campaign, says Geoff Garin, president of Hart Research Associates, which works with Planned Parenthood.

Garin says research showed that ads highlighting Romney’s support of defunding Planned Parenthood stuck with people throughout his campaign.

"Part of the power of this is not just that voters disagree with these positions, but they have a stickiness to them," he adds. "Voters make lots of other judgments if they learn that a candidate takes an extreme position on restricting access to abortion."

Preparing messages
Pro-life group March for Life has yet to endorse any particular candidates, but it’s already working to get out its message in person and online. On January 22, pro-life supporters were outside the Capitol building, in the snow, with signs in tow.

 "We promote greater information for women seeking an abortion and requiring facilities to meet basic medical standards and how critical it is to elect candidates who also promote this," explains Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League. "We host a couple of hundred rallies as well as speaking engagements throughout the year. I can reach an audience directly on Facebook, Twitter, and our website, www.prolife.org."

Tom McClusky, VP at the Family Research Council, says the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial race was a lesson in candidates needing to speak out on their position on the issue, lest misinformation be the filter.

"If Ken [Cuccinelli, Republican candidate for Virginia governor in 2013] had spoken out more, he would have won the race," says McClusky. "It’s not enough to be pro-life. You have to be bold or the other side is going to paint you as extreme."

Pro-life groups believe Republican candidates need to be more educated and prepared to speak about their pro-life stance accurately to avoid the "Todd Akin factor." The former Senate candidate’s comments about rape hampered his chances of being elected in 2012.

 March for Life has created Pro-Life 101 to educate the public about its stance on women’s reproductive health. It has also taken to social media and McClusky says his hope is to talk face to face with candidates and members about the issue during campaign season.

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