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For 2014 elections, abortion returns to forefront

Monday - 7/15/2013, 4:24am  ET

FILE - In this Jan. 23, 2012, file photo, anti-abortion and abortion rights supporters stand face to face in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, during the annual March For Life rally. Having no immediate hope to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide, Republicans in capitols around the country have accelerated their push for legislative restrictions on the procedure, and Democrats say they’ll make the GOP pay in coming elections. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

BILL BARROW
Associated Press

ATLANTA (AP) -- With no immediate hope of overturning the U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing abortion, Republicans around the country are increasingly pushing legislation to restrict the procedure, and Democrats say they'll make the GOP pay in coming elections.

From statehouses to Congress, Republicans have advanced a range of ideas: banning nearly all abortions beyond the 20th week after conception; making abortion clinics follow regulations for surgical care; mandating that clinic physicians have admitting privileges at local hospitals; requiring women to get ultrasounds before terminating a pregnancy.

The issue, which is figuring prominently in early 2016 White House race maneuvering, energizes social conservatives who influence many Republican primaries and drive GOP success in nonpresidential years when the electorate is older, whiter and more conservative. And some Republicans say more moderate voters will support their agenda in the wake of the murder conviction against Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortion doctor who jurors determined killed babies who'd survived the procedure.

But Democrats and abortion-rights advocates say Republicans already have overreached -- the noticeable uptick in restrictions began with GOP gains in 2010 elections, before Gosnell's prosecution began -- and that moderate voters have other priorities.

"Defense workers are being furloughed, student loan interest rates have doubled and these Republicans insist on a relentless pursuit of more restrictions on women's freedoms," said Rep. Steve Israel, chairman of the Democrats' national congressional campaign for 2014. "Swing voters are by their very nature moderate; they want solutions, not ideological warfare."

The House of Representatives adopted a 20-week ban in June. It has no chance of passing the Democratic-run Senate. A top anti-abortion lobbyist, National Right to Life Committee president Carol Tobias, told The Associated Press that her organization is working on a bill with the office of Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who is a high-profile possibility for the 2016 presidential race.

North Carolina's newfound legislative supermajority wants to regulate clinics more heavily. Pat McCrory, the Republican governor announced late Friday he would sign an updated abortion regulation bill if it reaches his desk, saying a legislator had addressed concerns about restricting a woman's access. Texas Gov. Rick Perry called his GOP legislature back into session to consider a 20-week ban and sweeping regulatory changes after a Democratic filibuster derailed the measure and drew national attention last month. The legislature passed the bill Friday, and it's headed to Perry's desk.

Rick Santorum, a failed 2012 presidential candidate who's considering another run, has traveled to Texas to lobby for the bill. Perry, meanwhile, is among several anti-abortion governors mulling a presidential bid. Scott Walker in Wisconsin recently signed a bill requiring ultrasounds before abortions, though a federal judge blocked the law. Louisiana's Bobby Jindal has signed several more restrictive bills, including two these year.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, which works on reproductive health issues including abortion-rights, states this year have enacted at least 43 new laws that restrict or further regulate abortion. That comes after more than 120 new laws, several held up by federal courts, the previous two years.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said, "There's a political price for Republicans trying to roll back the clock," and some of the legislative debates have already drawn comparisons to Republican losses in 2012, when controversial or scientifically inaccurate statements from Senate candidates Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock grew into a national liability.

Israel predicated abortion would be an issue again in the 2013-14 elections that will determine who controls Congress and dozens of statehouses during the final two years of Democratic President Barack Obama's term. He mentioned 12 Republicans who represent districts that Obama won last year and four more where Republican Mitt Romney won by less than 2 percentage points. Hogue said it could matter in the North Carolina Senate race, as well, particularly if state House Speaker Thom Tillis ends up as the GOP challenger to Sen. Kay Hagan. The first-term senator took to her Twitter account recently to blast Raleigh Republicans. "Women are watching," she wrote.

Democrats need 18 more seats to run the House. Republicans must net a six-seat gain to control the Senate.

At the National Republican Congressional Committee, spokeswoman Andrea Bozek suggested the best GOP strategy would be to shift the conversation to Obama's health care law, key parts of which the president has delayed. "Let's be clear: It's the House Democrats who are extreme on women's health care," she said. "That law is something women are extremely concerned about, and that's the politically toxic issue for Democrats."

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