Is The Anti-Choice Movement's Bark Worse Than Its Bite?

Last year, anti-choice groups were fuming after a few Republican congresswomen, led by Rep. Renee Ellmers of North Carolina, delayed a planned vote on a 20-week abortion ban when they objected to the wording of its exemption for rape victims, claiming that it was too narrow.

Several months later, anti-choice groups successfully lobbied to keep Ellmers off a select committee investigating Planned Parenthood in punishment for her stepping out of line. Leading groups continued to threaten to support a primary challenger against Ellmers.

But it turns out, according to Roll Call, that none of that threatened primary support for her opponents has materialized:

Nearly every one of the country’s most prominent anti-abortion groups have stayed out of Ellmers’ primary, not even offering so much as an endorsement to her opponents – much less the financial and grassroots support vital to defeating an incumbent member of Congress. In fact, a review of independent expenditure documents filed with the Federal Election Commission showed that none of these groups has spent money against Ellmers this year, an eye-opening revelation given the anger that still simmers over the congresswoman’s actions and the importance of abortion to many core GOP voters.

Anti-abortion groups have more time to organize against Ellmers if they want it – a court’s decision in February to throw out the existing congressional map in North Carolina has pushed back House primaries there from March 15 to June 7. But interviews with leaders of the movement suggest more time won’t change anything because rather than an anomaly, the Ellmers race is a symptom of a broader anti-abortion problem within not just the anti-abortion movement but social conservativism writ large.

Their assessment is blunt: Leading social conservative organizations are either too cozy with congressional leadership or simply don’t understand the importance of, when necessary, playing rough with lawmakers who vote against them. The consequence is a tangible feeling, on Capitol Hill and beyond, that stepping out of line on issues such as abortion rights and gay marriage carries less of an electoral penalty than defiance on issues such as taxes. That’s because the latter will earn the ire of such well-funded groups as the fiscally focused Club for Growth, which has a well-known history of defeating Republican incumbents.

Roll Call notes that social conservatives have also failed to follow through on their threats to mount serious primary challenges against Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio and Rep. Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee — Portman for supporting marriage equality and DesJarlais for pressuring his former wife and former mistress to have abortions.