Anti-abortion groups step up spending as states challenge Roe v. Wade

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Pro-abortion rights activists hold signs in response to anti-abortion activists participating in the 2019 “March for Life,” an annual event to mark the anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

On Tuesday night, Alabama passed the strictest abortion laws in the country — essentially banning abortion in all forms (except when a mother’s life is at risk) and stipulating that those who perform abortions could face up to 99 years in prison.

The state joins a number of others to push restrictive abortion laws, such as the “heartbeat bill” laws banning abortions after six weeks of pregnancy that have been passed in states such as Georgia and Ohio, over the past year. According to the liberal, pro-abortion rights group EMILY’s List, more than 300 abortion restrictions have been introduced in state legislatures since the start of 2019.

The Alabama bill, along with the others, are specifically meant to set up legal challenges that anti-abortion advocates hope will go all the way to the Supreme Court. With a conservative majority on the  court, anti-abortion activists are hoping this legislation could lead to their long-awaited goal of repealing Roe v. Wade.

Anti-abortion groups have been galvanized in recent years, especially after the election of President Donald Trump and the appointments of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. In 2018, affiliates of anti-abortion groups contributed around $2.1 million to federal candidates. Leading the contributions with $831,523 was the Susan B. Anthony List, a conservative group with the goal “to end abortion” and “promote pro-life women leaders.” Right to Life, another major anti-abortion player, contributed $542,218.

With the debate over abortion rights and access essentially ongoing since the Roe decision in 1973, both pro and anti-abortion groups have become powerful forces in American politics. Led by major national groups like Planned Parenthood, affiliates of pro-abortion rights groups have contributed more than $41.7 million to federal candidates since the 1990 election cycle. Meanwhile, affiliates of anti-abortion rights groups contributed just $20.7 million over the same time-frame, although their spending has risen in recent years.

Some of the anti-abortion groups’ favorite lawmakers in 2018 didn’t fare so well. The top recipients included former Rep. Karen Handel (R-Ga.) who lost her re-election bid, with $65,994 and Rep. Claudia Tenney (R-N.Y.), who also lost re-election, with $65,994.

The spark of recent growth among the interest group also comes through in their lobbying efforts wherein 2017 and 2018 they spent a record high of more than $1 million in each year. The same two organizations, Susan B. Anthony List and Right to Life were the big spenders at $780,000 and $270,000 respectively.

Mirroring the rise in spending from their competitors, pro-abortion rights groups too have started to contribute more and more to federal elections. In 2018, pro-abortion rights organizations contributed their most yet — $8.3 million. Most of that came from the interest’s two main groups, Planned Parenthood with $6.9 million and NARAL Pro-Choice America with $1.3 million.

Pro-abortion rights group have massive influence in federal politics. Planned Parenthood places its number of activists, donors and supporters at 12 million nationwide. Also among the pro-abortion rights ranks is EMILY’S List, a powerful national organization that recruits and supports pro-abortion rights Democratic female candidates and has more than three million members.

Pro-abortion rights groups focused intensely on supporting Democratic senators in their 2018 reelection efforts. The top recipient of pro-abortion contributions was Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) with $101,595. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) received $88,215.

The polarization of the two interest groups is practically total, there is little to no cross-party support among either anti or pro-abortion rights groups. Just two Republican senators received contributions from affiliates of pro-abortion rights groups — Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) with $4,700 and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) with $1,250. Both Murkowski and Collins have broken with their party in their support of pro-abortion rights legislation and judges. On the House side, just former Rep. Dan Donovan (R-N.Y.) received any contributions from affiliates of pro-abortion rights — only $1,000.

Contributions from affiliates of anti-abortion groups in 2018 went to a total of seven Democratic members, four in the House and three in the Senate. Notably, the only Democratic member to get significant contributions was Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.). Known for his increasingly rare in the party anti-abortion stance, Lipinski received $11,200 from the groups and survived a primary challenger who ran to his left.

Abortion lobbying

In lobbying too, pro-abortion rights groups have an edge — spending just over $2 million in 2018, a slight decline from the previous year. Planned Parenthood provided most of the cash, dropping around $1.2 million. The other major lobbying spender was the Center for Reproductive Rights which spent $561,598.

Through the first quarter of 2019 however, anti-abortion groups are actually outspending pro-rights groups $340,000 to $267,794. Both sides will continue to step up their spending as battles in the courts over various states’ legislation emerge over the next few months.

With the looming presidential election, a number of Democratic candidates have weighed in on the controversial Alabama measure. With abortion access becoming a presidential campaign topic, both pro and anti-abortion groups will want to make their voices heard, potentially setting them on the course for major outside spending.

In the past two election cycles, groups on both sides dropped millions on outside spending supporting and opposing various candidates. As usual, Planned Parenthood was a powerhouse, dropping almost $14.9 million in the 2016 cycle and $7.6 million in 2018. Comparatively, the top-anti-abortion group, Susan B. Anthony List, spent $1.8 million in the last presidential election and $2.5 million in the 2018 midterms.   

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