Groups Increase Pressure Over Abortion Rights

Battles over abortion rights can often seem Orwellian, but never more so than in the competition for the Catholic vote in this presidential election.

The National Right to Life Committee, the flagship organization of the movement to ban abortion, has endorsed Senator John McCain in the presidential race. But on Friday, a left-leaning Catholic group, Catholics United, will begin a small test run of a television commercial in six Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan markets aimed at undermining Mr. McCain's "pro-life credentials." (The initial purchase is just $20,000 but the group says it plans to spend more than $250,000 over the next two months.)

"I'm a mother of three children and I am pro-life," the commercial's narrator says. "John McCain, it's not enough to say you're pro-life. Actions speak louder than words. You voted against one of the largest support programs for pregnant women. You voted against health care for our children. And you voted for a war that has killed thousands of Americans. Senator McCain, when will you start defending all human life, without exception?"

Matthew 25, a new liberal Christian political action committee, is running a series of radio commercials across the Midwest featuring Doug Kmiec, a Catholic legal scholar and former Reagan administration official arguing that Senator Barack Obama's agenda would be more consonant with the totality of church teachings about the dignity of life.

And a three-year-old grass roots group Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, has dispatched six paid organizers to spread a similar message and distribute a voter guide that contrasts the candidates on a series of "life" issues, including abortion, war and health care. The Alliance's sponsors include the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, the Franciscan Mission Service, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, and the Maryknoll and Sisters of Mercy nuns.

The traditional movement seeking to end abortion rights is not standing down either. A group called BornAliveTruth.org is spending more than $350,000 to run a commercial in Ohio and New Mexico featuring an abortion survivor and accusing Mr. Obama of voting against a measure to protect the lives of fetuses that somehow live through the procedure. (The Obama campaign disputes the characterization of the vote, which took place in the Illinois legislature.)

Leonard Leo, a Catholic conservative who helped direct Republican Party outreach to Catholics four years ago and is now working with outside groups to help turn out the vote, said groups on his side expect to spend about $1.8 million on registration and get-out-the-vote efforts aimed at mass-attending Catholics, much of it through local conservative groups.

Allied groups including BornAliveTruth.org and Fedelis, a conservative Catholic group, are also spending more than $1 million on television commercials focused on contrasting Mr. McCain's "pro-life" record against Mr. Obama's support for abortion rights, Mr. Leo said.

Much of the support, he added, comes from donors and groups like the Judicial Confirmation Network who came together around the Supreme Court nomination battles over the last four years.

In addition, the Susan B. Anthony List, an organization of women opposed to abortion rights, is running direct mail and telephone campaigns around the issue in Louisiana, New Mexico, Colorado, Minnesota, North Carolina and New Hampshire, aimed at both senate races and the presidential contest. A spokeswoman for the group said its total budget for the election was $6 million.

As for the efforts of the Catholic left to compete for the "pro-life" label, Mr. Leo argued that it could risk antagonizing the church. He noted that two American cardinals — Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia and Cardinal Francis George of Chicago — had recently taken the unusual step of reminding Catholic public officials that support for abortion rights was never compatible with the church's social teachings.

"The proof is in the pudding," Mr. Leo said.

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