Roll Call: Group Pushes 2012 Abortion Debate

This article originally appeared in Roll Call on March 2, 2011.

Group Pushes 2012 Abortion Debate
By Steve Peoples

Ready or not, at least one interest group hopes to inject another wedge issue into the 2012 presidential race.

The well-funded anti-abortion-rights group Susan B. Anthony List is pushing Republican presidential candidates to declare whether taxpayer dollars should go to Planned Parenthood.

“We’re going to want presidential candidates to commit,” SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser told Roll Call this week.

SBA List, which spent almost $2.5 million to help elect anti-abortion-rights women to Congress in the 2010 cycle, has disclosed related plans to launch a 14-stop “grass-roots tour” and spend $200,000 in television and radio ads in 13 Congressional districts. Dannenfelser said the group specifically ran Planned Parenthood-related ads in districts in New Hampshire and Iowa to force the debate into the key presidential primary states.

“The fact that we’re running some of these ads in Iowa, too, is helpful in our long-term strategy, because of course we want to get presidential candidates to commit to this position as well,” she said.

The measure to block federal funding from going to Planned Parenthood, an organization that provides low-cost health care services — including abortions — to millions of women each year, was included in the House spending bill approved last month. President Barack Obama, who supports abortion rights, and the Democratic-led Senate are unlikely to allow the measure to become law.

“It will probably rank as the most important vote they’ll cast this Congress,” Dannenfelser said.

Last year the group successfully made an abortion-related health care vote a focus of their campaign efforts.

After a 2010 election cycle featuring virtually no talk of social issues, gay marriage has already become a hot topic in both Iowa and New Hampshire. Republican gains in those statehouses have fueled efforts to repeal same-sex marriage rights in recent months, and the debate is expected to span well into the presidential caucuses and primaries.

The injection of social issues could be a mixed blessing for the GOP field, where some candidates have embraced cultural conservative values more than others. Potential contenders such as former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum have embraced such discussion, while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has been snared by abortion questions in the past.

It was widely reported in the runup to his 2008 presidential campaign that Romney had previously attended a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood, and his wife, Ann, had donated to the organization.

Romney has been largely silent on the issue in recent days. A spokesman did not return a message requesting comment.

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