Since 2007, Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) has introduced legislation that would cut off Planned Parenthood’s federal funding. Bill after bill languished in committee, never receiving a House vote; one amendment he offered on the subject failed to get a single co-sponsor.
But Republicans in this Congress made it a priority to eliminate the abortion provider’s funding. The issue nearly shut down the federal government when Obama refused to allow such a provision into the national budget.
It also became a central campaign issue: Romney is the first Republican presidential candidate to pledge to cut Planned Parenthood’s funding. His running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.), voted for legislation that would have done so.
“We’ve seen in this presidential election already three ads about defunding Planned Parenthood,” said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and Planned Parenthood Action Fund. “That’s never happened before that I can remember. John McCain never talked about defunding us. George Bush never did that, either.”
The Planned Parenthood Action Fund has doubled its campaign spending since 2008, increasing advertising and on-the-ground activity.
The goal for both sides is to turn women’s health into a winning issue at the polls in November. Greenberg, working with Democratic candidates nationwide, argues that extending the argument beyond abortion to include contraceptives will work well for her party.
“We’re having a national conversation about the most bizarre issues: the definition of rape and the largely settled debate over the use of birth control,” she said. “It prevents Republicans from having the conversation they want to have about the economy.”
Yoest makes the opposite case: Her group, Americans United for Life, has been involved in passing 19 abortion restrictions at the state level this year. She has seen the energy among her supporters.
“It’s a dangerous strategy for [the Obama administration] to walk so far out on an aggressive pro-abortion strategy,” she said. “There’s been a backlash.”