WASHINGTON (BP) -- President Obama's campaign has launched its fifth television ad targeting Mitt Romney's pro-life views, the latest spotlight on abortion in an election year that most political observers thought would be light on social issues.
With polls showing most voters saying the country is on the wrong track, the Obama campaign has tried to make abortion an issue in swing states with the goal of energizing its base, particularly among female voters. Along the way, it has attempted to take advantage of verbal flubs by Republican Senate candidates in Missouri and Indiana.
The latest Obama ad criticizes Romney's opposition to Roe v. Wade and his desire to pull federal funding for Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider.
"Which do you believe: What Mitt Romney's TV ads say about women or what Mitt Romney himself says?" a narrator asks.
The ad then shows several clips of Romney. In one he says, "Do I believe the Supreme Court should overturn Roe v. Wade? Yes." In another one he says, "I'll cut off funding to Planned Parenthood."
The narrator concludes, "No matter what Mitt Romney's ads say, we know what he'll do."
Learn more about the presidential candidates' beliefs on abortion in our feature story, 'Election 2012: Obama & Romney on abortion,' here.
Previous Obama ads had charged that Romney opposes abortion in the cases of rape, incest and to save the mother's life. Romney has said he actually favors those exceptions, and his campaign launched a television ad where a female Romney voter explains his position on abortion, saying he believes in the three exceptions. Romney's position on abortion is the same as that of the two most recent Republican presidents: George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
The new Obama ad was launched around the same time Indiana Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock made comments about abortion and rape that caused controversy. Addressing the issue of pregnancies caused by rape, Mourdock said at a debate, "I struggled with it myself for a long time, but I came to realize life is that gift from God. And I think even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that it is something that God intended to happen."
Mourdock, pro-lifers and even some liberal commentators said he simply was saying that all life is precious and created by God -- although they said his comments were poorly worded. An Obama campaign spokesman said the comments were "outrageous and demeaning to women" and added that Romney should pull his endorsement of Mourdock. Romney had recorded a TV ad for him.
In August, the Obama campaign also tried to tie Romney to Missouri Republican Senate candidate Todd Akin after he said of pregnancy from rape: "From what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." A subsequent fundraising email from the Obama campaign claimed that Romney and running mate Paul Ryan are "in lockstep with Akin on the major women's health issues of our time." Akin subsequently apologized for the comment, saying "it's clear that I misspoke in this interview and it does not reflect the deep empathy I hold for the thousands of women who are raped and abused every year."
Akin quickly fell behind Sen. Claire McCaskill by 6-8 points in most polls but has since made a comeback and trailed by 2 points, 45-43 percent, in a poll conducted Oct. 23-25 by Mason-Dixon for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper. Several prominent conservatives have rallied around Akin, including Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Mike Huckabee, the latter of which recorded a new TV ad for him.
The Akin controversy broke just before the Democratic National Convention. Led by President Obama and Vice President Biden, the convention saw 25 speakers reference the party's support for legal abortion, an average of eight speakers a night in what was the biggest emphasis on the issue since at least the 1992 Democratic convention.
Obama's five ads spotlighting abortion are unprecedented. Earlier this year Baptist Press watched every Democratic nominee's television ads, from 1976-2008 -- that is, post-Roe v. Wade -- and found that only one other campaign (Bill Clinton's, 1996) discussed abortion in an ad, and that reference ("choice") came in a TV ad that was not abortion-centric but instead discussed several issues.
Pro-life groups hope the Obama campaign's abortion spotlight will backfire by benefiting Romney, who has been viewed skeptically by some conservatives. After all, Obama's campaign is regularly reminding voters that Romney opposes Roe.
The debate over Romney's position on Roe serves to spotlight the Supreme Court, where the issue ultimately will be decided. Four justices are in their 70s: Ruth Bader Ginsburg (79), Antonin Scalia (76), Anthony Kennedy (76) and Stephen Breyer (74). Three of them -- Ginsburg, Kennedy and Breyer -- are on record as supporting Roe. Scalia has called for its reversal. If the court currently has a 5-4 pro-Roe majority, as many court-watchers surmise, then the retirement of any one of these four during an Obama second term or Romney administration could have an impact on legalized abortion. Next year -- 2013 -- is the 40th anniversary of Roe.
Discussion over abortion's exceptions has forced Christians to examine the issue more critically. R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., said pro-lifers must speak to the issue with clarity and stand up for the unborn.
"First, when speaking of saving the life of the mother, we should be clear that the abortion of her unborn child cannot be the intentional result. There can be no active intention to kill the baby," he wrote on his blog. "This does not mean that a mother might, in very rare and always tragic circumstances, require a medical procedure or treatment to save her life that would, as a secondary effect, terminate the life of her unborn child. This is clearly established in moral theory, and we must be thankful that such cases are very rare.
"Next, when speaking of cases involving rape and incest, we must affirm the sinful tragedy of such acts and sympathize without reservation with the victims. We must then make the argument that the unborn child that has resulted from such a heinous act should not be added to the list of victims. That child possesses no less dignity than a child conceived in any other context."
Mohler also said that pro-lifers who don't believe in any exceptions to abortion can nevertheless support candidates who do believe in some exceptions.
"As the Gallup organization affirmed just months ago, the vast majority of Americans are willing to support increased restrictions on abortion so long as those exceptions are allowed," Mohler wrote. "We should gladly accept and eagerly support such laws and the candidates who support them, knowing that such a law would save the life of over a million unborn children in the nation each year. Can we be satisfied with such a law? Of course not, and we cannot be disingenuous in our public statements. But we can eagerly support a law that would save the vast majority of unborn children now threatened by abortion, even as we seek to convince our fellow Americans that this is not enough."
Denny Burk, associate professor of New Testament at Boyce College in Louisville, said abortion is the most critical issue this election.
"With more than 50 million babies already dead in America, is it not clear that abortion-on-demand is the greatest human rights crisis of our time?" he asked in a column on his website. "The only reason that people do not feel the weight of this horror is that abortion is largely out of their view. The cries of aborted babies do not escape their mother's womb, and citizens don't hear the screams that would otherwise provoke the repugnance of any decent person." --30-- Michael Foust is associate editor of Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email ( baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).