Abortion as issue fading for voters

WASHINGTON — Carly Fiorina and her husband, Frank, tried without success to have children. And when her mother-in-law experienced health problems while she was carrying Frank, doctors advised her to terminate the pregnancy.

"Those experiences shape and add color to what my faith taught me," said Fiorina, an abortion opponent and one of three GOP candidates vying to supplant California Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer, a strong backer of abortion rights.

While the issue is intensely personal for Fiorina, abortion has largely faded as a major public concern in 2010, at least so far.

With the economy sputtering, the Republican candidates say voters are much more focused on bread-and-butter issues this year.

For former Rep. Tom Campbell, the front-runner in the race, it's déjà vu: In the 2000 GOP Senate race, he was the lone candidate in a three-way field to support abortion rights. He won the GOP primary, only to lose to Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein in the general election.

But 10 years ago, with a stronger economy, Campbell said abortion was a much more prominent issue for Republicans. This year, he said, no one is talking about it.

"It never comes up," said Campbell. "People are out of work. People are worried that their children won't get a job. That's where the focus is." He just wishes his party would quit fighting about the issue for good.

"There's just so much that unites the Republican Party," he said. "The focus on abortion, that tends to be something that has divided us."

The third candidate in the race, Assemblyman Chuck DeVore, who claims to be the most conservative of the three Senate hopefuls, said that "no issue should be off the table" for Republicans.

"A lot of issues divide the party," said DeVore, who opposes abortion. "That doesn't mean you don't talk about it."

In the past two weeks, Fiorina has become the darling of abortion opponents, winning endorsements from the National Right to Life Committee, the California Pro-Life Council and the Susan B. Anthony List, which calls itself a national pro-life political action committee.

Fiorina said she opposes abortion, with exceptions: If they're required to save the life of the mother, or if the pregnancy is the result of rape or incest.

DeVore would allow abortions only to save the mother's life. In cases of rape and incest, he said, it's still wrong to end the life of an unborn child.

"I don't think you should hold it against the unborn child, the circumstances of their conception," DeVore said.

Boxer has been a polarizing figure when it comes to abortion. While she gets scores of zero from groups that oppose abortion, she has consistently received scores of 100 from groups that back abortion rights, including Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America. EMILY's List, which gives money to Democratic women who back abortion rights, is working hard for Boxer, proclaiming her among "candidates we love" this year.

Californians overwhelmingly support abortion rights, according to a Field Poll released in August 2009. The poll found that 70 percent of voters approved of allowing abortions, compared with 51 percent in 1975. But the issue has been more divisive for Republicans than for Democrats. The poll found that 82 percent of Democrats backed abortion rights, compared with 55 percent of Republicans.