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States' Abortion Restrictions Used as Wedge in Senate Races

August 7, 2014 — While this year's Senate races lack abortion-related disputes on the scale of former Rep. Todd Akin's (R-Mo.) "legitimate rape" comments, candidates from both parties are using state abortion measures to attack their opponents, Politico reports.

According to Politico, even for candidates who might otherwise want to avoid abortion-related topics, the "high-profile" nature of the debate -- including ongoing court battles over state laws -- is forcing them to take a stance. In particular, Senate candidates are focusing on state laws that ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy and "personhood" proposals that would define life as beginning at fertilization.

Key Races

For example, in Colorado, Sen. Mark Udall (D) has criticized his challenger, Rep. Cory Gardner (R), for his previous support of unsuccessful personhood proposals in 2008 and 2010, which the Udall campaign says shows that Gardner opposes contraception. A Udall ad also says that "Gardner sponsored a bill to make abortion a felony, including [in] cases of rape and incest."

Meanwhile, Gardner has backed off his previous support for the personhood measure and has said FDA should allow nonprescription access to birth control pills. However, he is still a sponsor of a federal personhood bill, according to Politico.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee also has used several Republican Senate candidates' past or current support of personhood measures to target them for potentially limiting access to contraceptives.

In North Carolina, outside groups are attacking Sen. Kay Hagan (D) for opposing efforts to ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Hagan is responding by criticizing her opponent in the Senate race, Republican Thom Tillis, for abortion restrictions that were passed when Tillis was speaker of the state General Assembly (Winfield Cunningham, Politico, 8/6).