Anti-Abortion Groups Targeting Casey’s Re-Election Bid

December 31, 2010

By Steve People, Roll Call

Sen. Bob Casey stands among a disappearing breed of Congressional Democrats.

The number of abortion opponents in the Democratic caucus dramatically dropped, from roughly 40 to 20, after the 2010 midterms. Pennsylvania’s senior Senator, up for re-election in 2012, is now one of just three anti-abortion Democrats in the Senate.

It might seem counterintuitive, therefore, that the Keystone State’s anti-abortion community is fiercely opposed to Casey’s re-election bid.

“To really call himself pro-life is not quite right,” said Helen Gohsler, president of the Scranton chapter of Pennsylvanians for Human Life, based in Casey’s hometown.

She laughed incredulously when asked whether the local anti-abortion community could support Casey in 2012. “He betrayed us,” she said.

The betrayal, according to Gohsler and other Pennsylvania anti-abortion activists, was Casey’s vote for President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. The final version of the legislation included a compromise to win over anti-abortion Members, but abortion opponents such as Gohsler are convinced that the bill allows taxpayer-funded abortion.

The groups might use health care and other issues to target evangelicals and Catholics they hope will oppose Casey’s re-election bid when he’s on the ballot. Roll Call Politics rates this race as Leans Democratic. The Senate’s other anti-abortion Democrats, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, also are up for re-election in 2012, giving anti-abortion groups a potential national platform to try to oust them.

Casey, who defeated staunch social conservative Sen. Rick Santorum (R) in 2006, largely shrugs off the criticism.

“Those groups were for Rick Santorum. He was their guy. They didn’t support Sen. Casey then, and they’re not going to support him now,” Casey spokesman Larry Smar said. “There’s a big difference between real Pennsylvanians and these interest groups.”

The Senator’s office rattles off a list of accomplishments, including two provisions in the health care bill, that reinforce his anti-abortion credentials. As recently as mid-December, Casey successfully fought against an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act that could have allowed taxpayer-funded abortions on military bases.

“He makes no secret of a pro-life voting record. He’s taken some very difficult pro-life votes,” said Casey’s chief of staff, Jim Brown. “We’re pretty proud actually of what he did in health care.”

The Senator’s office notes that Casey was a central figure in the compromise that sought to block the public funding of abortion. He also worked to insert provisions in the health care bill that boosted funding for the adoption tax credit and helped women bring pregnancies to term, additions celebrated by the anti-abortion community.

But Pennsylvania’s anti-abortion leaders say Casey’s ultimate vote to support the overhaul is unforgivable. The key question is whether the passionate opposition of the anti-abortion groups will complicate Casey’s re-election bid.

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