While voters say economic issues are their top concern, abortion is also a high priority this year. In a recent Gallup Poll, nearly two-thirds of voters said it’s an important factor in their decision.
But when you have a pro-choice Republican running against a pro-choice Democrat, abortion doesn’t seem like an obvious lightning-rod issue.
That’s the situation in New Hampshire’s Second Congressional District, where Democrat Ann McLane Kuster is trying to unseat Republican Charlie Bass.
“Now we all remember Charlie is a good guy, and in fact, in 2001, 2004, and 2005, NARAL Pro-Choice America even rated him as 100 percent pro-choice. But things have changed," said Catherine Cavanaugh at a recent news conference. She sits on the board of New Hampshire NARAL. The group endorsed Ann McLane Kuster, who lobbied professionally for them. Other abortion rights groups, like the National Organization for Women and Emily’s List have also endorsed Kuster. At the event, Cavanaugh called Bass out on his record, saying.
“Charlie Bass turned his back on women. He voted to defund the entire Title X Family Planning program, and he voted to allow states to deny contraceptive coverage.”
Bass says, “NARAL has it wrong.”
He defends his record, but taken as a whole, it’s nuanced. Bass sided with NARAL on half the votes the group scored last year. But he did vote with his entire party on the controversial House Resolution 358, which prohibited federal money from paying for any health care plan that includes abortion coverage. NARAL says it would also allow hospitals with moral objections to deny women abortions—even if the mother’s life is in danger. Bass argues his fundamental views on abortion are clear—and his record proves it.
“I have been a consistent supporter of upholding the Roe v. Wade decision, which is the foundation of this debate, and also federal funding for contraceptive services," Bass says.
That federal funding is Title X. Under the program, health care providers make contraception, cervical cancer screenings, and mammograms available to low-income women. The most well-known provider is Planned Parenthood. And Bass voted against de-funding Planned Parenthood this term—just one of seven Republicans to do so. But his opponent, Ann McLane Kuster, points to other votes.
“Congressman Bass has voted twice now for the Ryan Budget, that is going to eliminate family planning funding," Kuster says. "It’s going to lead to the closure of Planned Parenthood clinics all across this country and certainly all across this state.”
But that’s not enough to put Planned Parenthood of Northern New England into the Kuster column.
“Both candidates support the ability of Planned Parenthood health centers to provide a full range of reproductive health services," Jessica Frizzell of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England says. In fact, she says they aren't endorsing anyone in this race.
The vast majority of the time, most congressmen of both parties vote with party leadership. But women’s health issues are one area in which Bass doesn’t always toe the Republican line. A point he makes in television ads. In one, he declares, “I happen to believe that women should have a right to contraception, that Roe v. Wade is the law of the land, and it should be upheld. That’s not the way most of my Republican colleagues feel."
UNH political scientist Andy Smith says it’s not surprising Bass would take this tack in the Democratic-leaning Second District.
“The thing about New Hampshire is it’s one of the least religious states in the country. The religious overtones to politics just don’t exist here," Smith says. "Which causes problems for Republicans, because of that, the more moderate Rockefeller Republicans, in a sense, have to run away from their party’s national image.”
Smith also notes that presidential races drive turnout. So congressmen are often elected or ousted based on voters’ presidential picks, rather than their own merits. Abortion and contraception are big issues at the top of the ticket. And there, the contrast between pro-life Mitt Romney and pro-choice Barack Obama is stark.