Abortion issues seemed left in the dust as economic concerns drove this year's election, but on Tuesday voters ousted several pro-life Democrats and ushered in fiscal conservatives who tend to oppose abortion.
As the names of defeated pro-life Democrats flashed across the screen Tuesday night, triumphant cheers erupted at Morton's Steakhouse, where staff and supporters of the Susan B. Anthony List (SBAL) had gathered to watch election returns.
SBAL, which works to elect pro-life women to office, typically supports pro-life members of both parties. But that largely changed this year after most pro-life Democrats voted for the federal healthcare bill that many abortion opponents say allows for federal funding of abortion.
Three of the four Democrats most heavily targeted by SBAL lost their seats, including Reps. Steve Driehaus (Ohio) and Kathy Dahlkemper (Penn.). Overall, 10 of 17 pro-life Democrats who voted for the healthcare bill were defeated on Tuesday, according to SBAL.
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (FRC), said some seats formerly held by moderate Republicans are now being filled by more conservative Republicans. FRC gained attention in the last days of the campaign for its advertising against Joseph Cao—a Republican congressman from Louisiana who supported hate-crimes legislation and an effort to repeal the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on openly homosexual service members.
FRC ran ads against Cao even though his opponent, Democratic State Rep. Cedric Richmond, supports abortion rights. (Cao was one of the few incumbent Republican House members to be defeated by a Democrat Tuesday.) "Cao has repeatedly voted for extra protections for homosexuals at the cost of religious liberty," the ad stated. Cao told the Times-Picayune that the charge was ridiculous. "As a former Jesuit seminarian and practicing Catholic, it is ridiculous to say that I have ever taken a position against religious liberties," Cao said.
Perkins also explained that part of the campaign against Cao circles back to the healthcare bill.
"A lot of energy was expended to get him to vote against the bill," Perkins said. "If he was truly pro-life, he would have been leading the charge."
President Obama signed an executive order prohibiting abortion funding that did not satisfy many pro-life groups. While the pushback could serve to intensify the partisanship surrounding abortion, SBAL president Marjorie Dannenfelser said the Democrats spelled their own doom by voting for the healthcare bill.
"The members themselves made that happen," she said Tuesday night as she was watching election returns. "They decided for partisanship over the pro-life movement."
Citizenlink (Focus on the Family's political arm) and FRC spent $738,000 and $272,000, respectively, on independent campaign ads this year, according to OpenSecrets.org. Each group spent about two-thirds of their money working to defeat Democrats.
Heavier lifting was done by SBAL and National Right to Life, each group dishing out about $2.4 million in independent expenditures, OpenSecrets.org reports. Those numbers put them among the top 30 non-party groups spending to influence elections and behind the nearly $4 million spent by the pro-choice group Emily's List, whose success helped prompt Dannenfelser to start SBAL.
Senate contenders Sharron Angle and Carly Fiorina—two of SBAL's most heavily supported candidates—lost their bids. On the other hand, the House gained at least 20 pro-life members as of Tuesday night results, according to tracking done by the group.