On Oct. 24, women backing President Obama protest outside a convention center in Reno, Nev., where Republican Mitt Romney was giving a campaign speech. Exit polls show significant support from women was a key factor in Obama's victory over Romney in Nevada.
On Oct. 24, women backing President Obama protest outside a convention center in Reno, Nev., where Republican Mitt Romney was giving a campaign speech. Exit polls show significant support from women was a key factor in Obama's victory over Romney in Nevada. Scott Sonner/AP
In an election that highlighted the political divide over abortion, female voters turned out to be a key to victory for President Obama.
Public outcry over Republican Todd Akin's comments on "legitimate rape" ultimately gave Democrat Claire McCaskill a U.S. Senate victory in Missouri. And in Indiana, Republican Senate hopeful Richard Mourdock lost his race at least in part because of his comments about pregnancy resulting from rape.
The Republicans' comments pushed the abortion issue to the forefront — and also united and motivated abortion rights activists.
"These are issues deeply important to women," says Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation. She says an 18-point gender gap helped Obama defeat Mitt Romney and what she calls the GOP attack on women's rights.
"They're not just social issues, as Romney tried to say. Access to affordable health care, access to family planning — these are issues that are economic issues for women and their families," Richards says.
But the day after the election, many conservatives were pondering their losses. They say their anti-abortion principles weren't the problem — it was the Republican Party's failure to run a truly conservative candidate. And they're vowing to change the party and continue their fight to restrict abortion.
In a news conference Wednesday, Richard Viguerie, chairman of ConservativeHQ.com, said Republicans don't win unless they nationalize elections around conservative values.
"Conservatives are saying never again are we going to nominate a big-government, establishment Republican for president," he said.
Alongside Viguerie was Marjorie Dannenfelser, head of the Susan B. Anthony List, a political action committee that backs candidates opposed to abortion.
"Obama launched a war over abortion and on the life issue," she said. "Therefore, he got to completely define what that issue was. And what is it? Rape."
Dannenfelser says the Republicans left votes on the table because they failed to really take on the abortion issue and explain their position. She calls the result a kind of New Year's Day for the movement.
"If you truly believe that you are living in a great human civil rights movement, you don't give up. That is why we grow as a movement. So this is the beginning of a new cycle," she said.
Other groups that oppose abortion say they'll continue to take their fight to the states — for example, working on a bill to allow states to opt out of paying for abortions under the federal health care law. They're also pushing for more restrictions on abortion and on the clinics where they're performed.
Donna Crane with NARAL Pro-Choice America says she's not surprised.
"We take very seriously their threat that they're going to redouble their efforts at the state level," she says, "and I think that is a foolish course of action in light of the really clear message they got from Americans on Tuesday night."
But anti-abortion groups say that's not the message they got. They say the abortion issue is far from settled — that Romney never reached their core supporters.