Democrats focus on abortion ahead of US midterms, spending shows

Roughly 1 in 3 television advertisement dollars spent by Democrats and their allies have focused on abortion, an AP analysis finds.

Abortion rights protesters hold signs during a rally in the US
The US has seen a heightened debate over abortion rights after the nation's top court overturned its landmark Roe v Wade ruling in June [File: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters]

Democrats in the United States are making abortion rights a central plank of their campaigns ahead of critical midterm elections, pumping an unprecedented amount of money into advertising on the issue.

As the most intense period of campaigning begins, Democrats have already invested more than an estimated $124m this year in television advertising referencing abortion, according to an Associated Press analysis of data provided by nonpartisan research firm AdImpact.

That is more than twice as much money as the party’s next top issue – “character” – and almost 20 times more than what it spent on abortion-related advertisements in the 2018 midterms, the news agency reported on Tuesday.

Reproductive rights were thrust into the spotlight in the US after the nation’s top court in June overturned a landmark 1973 decision that guaranteed the constitutional right to abortion in the US.

While expected and welcomed by some, the overturning of Roe v Wade spurred a sense of anger and grief for many across the country and set off mass demonstrations, with protesters demanding Democrats step up to defend people’s right to the procedure.

Republican-led states have moved to severely curtail abortion in the aftermath of the US Supreme Court’s decision, and rights advocates say Black and low-income people will bear the brunt of the restrictions.

Since the high court’s decision, roughly one in three television advertising dollars spent by Democrats and their allies have focused on abortion, the AP analysis showed.

Much of the spending is designed to attack Republicans on the ballot on November 8 who have long opposed abortion rights and are currently engaged in a state-by-state push to restrict abortion rights or outlaw the practice altogether.

The Democrats’ unprecedented investment in abortion messaging on TV this year through September 18 is larger than the Republican Party’s combined national investment in advertisements relating to the economy, crime and immigration, AP said.

“With less than 60 days until the election, we refuse to stand by while out-of-step, anti-choice Republicans try to control our bodies and our futures and simultaneously lie about it to voters,” Melissa Williams, executive director of Women Vote!, an outside group that has invested more than $4m in abortion-related advertisements this year, told the news agency.

“We are ensuring that each voter knows the candidates that stand with them and against them in protecting this right,” Williams said.

A recent NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll showed that 22 percent of Americans said abortion was their top issue leading up to the midterms, while 58 percent said the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v Wade made them more likely to vote.

“The Supreme Court’s decision … this summer has had a major impact on electoral politics heading toward the midterm elections,” Lee M Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, said.

“Not only are Democrats more motivated to vote than Republicans because of the court’s decision, Democrats remain energised whereas Republican interest has faded since June.”

In July, Democrats in the US House of Representatives passed two bills that sought to safeguard abortion rights, including protecting patients who travel out-of-state to access abortion services. But the measures failed to pass amid opposition in the evenly-divided Senate.

The effort in Congress came after Democratic President Joe Biden signed an executive order that month directing the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to protect and expand access to abortion services, including out-of-state travel and federally approved medication.

Meanwhile, the political divisions on abortion were again highlighted last week, when Republican Senator Lindsey Graham put forward a bill that would ban abortion at 15 weeks of pregnancy across the US.

“If we adopted my bill – our bill – we would be in the mainstream of most everybody else in the world,” Graham, a staunch supporter of former President Donald Trump, said during a news conference, adding that dozens of European countries have similar, if not more stringent, restrictions.

While the bill has no chance of passing, the White House denounced it as “wildly out of step” with the views of the US public.

Source: Al Jazeera, AP