Yet in the homestretch of the 2012 campaign, abortion politics is coloring races up and down the ticket.
And it’s by design.
Democrats have gone all in for abortion rights, with none of the hedging or defensiveness they’ve shown in recent years — a subtle but striking repositioning with political consequences that extend far beyond Nov. 6.
The evidence of it is impossible to miss. The airwaves are choked with messaging about women’s reproductive health. Abortion rights advocates had prime speaking roles at the Democratic convention. Contraception advocate Sandra Fluke is a prominent campaign trail surrogate. Cecile Richards, head of Planned Parenthood, recently introduced President Barack Obama at a Virginia campaign rally.
While Democrats have long supported a woman’s right to choose, this year’s full-throated embrace of abortion rights — from the president down to the most obscure House candidate — marks a historic departure that now places the party as firmly and unyieldingly in support of abortion rights as the GOP is in opposition.
The long-term implications of that shift worry some Democrats — who long shied away from being the party of “abortion on demand,” in the phrase of their GOP opponents, to avoid alienating voters who favor some restrictions or find it morally troubling. But with the White House and Senate hanging in the balance, Obama and the party have replaced that political caution with a new political calculus — that it’s the GOP that looks extreme and out of touch, particularly to women voters who will help decide the election.
Democrats point to controversial statements of GOP Senate candidates such as Richard Mourdock of Indiana and Todd Akin of Missouri, and a Republican legislative agenda — both in statehouses and in Congress — as the forces driving the heightened focus on abortion rights. They’re especially incensed by the GOP’s fight against the Obama administration’s contraception rule and the drive to defund Planned Parenthood — putting new issues on the table that, in their view, shouldn’t be controversial.