David O'Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, said the discussion about a late-term procedure that opponents call "partial-birth abortion" has helped solidify anti-abortion sentiment. The Supreme Court will hear arguments this fall on a federal ban of the procedure; a ruling is likely next year as the presidential campaign gets under way.
With all the recent activity, abortion is more likely than ever to play a central role in coming elections, and political consultants of all stripes are pondering how to use it to best advantage.
In the AP poll, two-thirds of Democrats said abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while two-thirds of Republicans said it should be illegal all or most of the time.
Bowman said that about 9 percent to 13 percent of voters tend to cast their ballots based on a candidate's stance on abortion, with Republicans tending to benefit the most from these single-issue voters at the national level while results are more mixed in state races. The recent developments could be significant in rallying voters, particularly in off-year elections, she said.
Jim Kessler, vice president for policy at Third Way, a strategy group for moderate Democrats, said anti-abortion forces made significant inroads during the 1990s by appealing to what he calls the "abortion grays" those in the middle who do not think abortion should be completely legal or illegal.
They did this, he said, by pushing restrictions on access to abortion rather than making a direct challenge to Roe. Abortion rights supporters, he said, alienated those in the middle with their rigid opposition to any restrictions.
With South Dakota's move to ban almost all abortions, progressive Democrats have an opportunity to "win the battle of reasonableness" by positioning the party as one that wants to reduce abortions while preserving a woman's right to have one, he said.
A Third Way "message memo" suggests candidates promote policies to reduce unintended pregnancies, such as improving access to contraceptives, and back efforts to support pregnant women who want to give birth, including helping them remain in school.
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