Abortion survivor Melissa Ohden and President Barack Obama are the stars of a 60-second ad that the Susan B. Anthony List plans to roll out in five battleground states in an effort to persuade women to vote against the president. 

women voters
A girl tiptoes to see a woman’s ballot as she votes in New Hampshire last winter. Reuters photo by Eric Thayer

The pro-life political action committee’s commercial will contrast Ohden’s story as an aborted infant born alive with Obama’s statements while in the Illinois state legislature, where he voted against the Born Alive Infants Protection Act, which would protect babies such as Ohden. 

“It’s going to be a horse race,” predicted Marjorie Dannenfelser, SBA List president, saying every vote will count, particularly in the battleground states of Florida, Iowa, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin. SBA List is devoting the bulk of its $8 million advertising war chest to those five states. 

Dannenfelser said Gallup’s polling over the past 10 years shows a largely unreported change in women’s views of abortion so that “pro-life is the new normal.” A May 23, 2012, Gallup Poll found Americans tilt pro-life by a nine point margin, 50 percent to 41 percent. The SBA List is targeting Catholics, women and Hispanics who probably voted for Obama in 2008, she said. 

Fifty percent of women voted for Obama vs. 43 percent for Republican Sen. John McCain in the 2008 presidential election, according to Gallup. 

Economic woes

Despite the SBA List’s efforts to keep pro-life issues on the forefront, the latest polling shows perceptions on the economy are what will influence the most voters’ choice on Nov. 6. Polls generally have shown former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and Obama in a dead heat. 

“I do think it’s right that the candidates are really going to have to make their case for the economy — who has the better case,” said Robert P. Jones, chief executive officer of Public Religion Research Institute. The nonpartisan nonprofit conducted a poll in mid-August that was published Sept. 20. 

Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at the Catholic Unniversity of America.

Jones disagrees with Gallup’s numbers on pro-life voters, saying the split still goes toward those favoring legalized abortion but significantly, he said, there is no gender gap. However, he said just 3 percent of voters say pro-life issues will determine their vote. 

In the Public Religion Research Institute poll, 74 percent of Americans polled blame corporations for moving jobs overseas, with 59 percent saying Obama is at least partly responsible for the nation’s economic woes and 65 percent continuing to blame former President George W. Bush. “They’re basically blaming everyone who’s been in charge,” Jones said.  

Pollsters say women in general tilt toward Obama. A Sept. 19 Pew Research Center poll showed women supporting Obama 56 percent to 37 percent. 

Women’s vote will be influenced by their views of fairness and that may depend on which candidate makes the better case, Jones said. Public Religion Research Institute’s polling found “six in 10 women say one of the biggest problems in this country is we don’t give everyone an equal chance in life.” 

Many women’s support for Obama is pragmatic, said Stephen Schneck, director of the Institute for Policy Research & Catholic Studies at The Catholic University of America and an Obama supporter. 

“I would argue that it is the sense that women have that Democratic administration is going to have programs in place that are going to better safeguard their families from the vulnerabilities of life,” he told Our Sunday Visitor. 

Opposing views

Our Lady of Guadalupe Mission parishioner Nancy Lacsamana plans to vote for Obama, as she did in 2008.  

“I am Democrat, pro-life, anti-death penalty but still feel that I am more in sync with Obama moving us forward than Romney will ever,” said the Brisbane, Calif., woman. 

“I don’t want a president who generalizes the poor and those who get assistance because they are out of jobs or have health issues.” 

But for Rita Cicala of Ellicott City, Md., a vote for Obama is impossible. “Growing up, the Democratic Party was always supportive of the working class. After I was able to vote, as a teacher, I felt that the values they valued were my values,” said Cicala, a parishioner at Our Lady of Perpetual Help. But as her concern for moral values, including opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage, grew: “I realized that I was at a crossroads. My vote was a moral obligation for what I stood for morally.” 

Cicala changed her registration from Democrat to Republican 10 years ago. “Whether Democrat or Republican, I voted for the pro-life candidate. That is my first priority.” 

Standing up to mandate

The Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate has energized a group of women, mostly Catholic, who oppose the president and support the Church in its religious freedom battle. 

“Thanks to President Barack Obama’s contraceptive mandate and Catholic concerns about its impact on religious liberty, Catholic women have emerged as this year’s most coveted and scrutinized swing voters,” columnist Colleen Carroll Campbell wrote in the St. Louis Post Dispatch Sept. 13. 

Marjorie Dannenfelser, President of the Susan B. Anthony List organization.

The Republicans and Romney joined all the U.S. bishops in opposing the mandate requiring Catholic and other religious hospitals, charities and universities to provide free contraceptives, including abortion-inducing drugs, to employees and their dependents. Schneck said he supports The Catholic University in its lawsuit against the mandate. 

The Obama administration called opposition to its contraceptive mandate a “war on women.” Among those challenging that narrative is the website Women Speak for Themselves co-founded by Helen Alvaré, law professor at George Mason University.  

“No one speaks for all women on these issues. Those who purport to do so are simply attempting to deflect attention from the serious religious liberty issues currently at stake,” the website letter said. “Each of us, Catholic or not, is proud to stand with the Catholic Church and its rich, life-affirming teachings on sex, marriage and family life.” 

Women cannot be categorized as “one size fits all” voters, said Vicki Evans, respect life coordinator for the Archdiocese of San Francisco and a CPA in private practice. 

“I don’t believe there is a generic ‘women’s vote’ any more than there is a ‘Catholic vote.’ Women vote based on issues that matter most to them at any given time in their lives,” said Evans. “It will be economic issues if they can’t put food on the table. It will be social issues like abortion, marriage and family if they are religious or have an activist bent. It will be health-care issues if they are elderly or have disabled family members.” 

Valerie Schmalz writes from California.