WASHINGTON -- Many political observers already were calling this the "year of the pro-life woman," but Tuesday's primary results added two more pro-life female nominees to a record pro-life lineup that could dramatically reshape the nation's abortion debate this November.
Although no pro-life women currently are in the Senate, the primaries now have produced four pro-life female nominees, all Republicans: California's Carly Fiorina, Nevada's Sharron Angle, New Hampshire's Kelly Ayotte and Delaware's Christine O'Donnell. Although O'Donnell begins the general election campaign as an underdog, Fiorina and Angle are running neck-and-neck with their opponents while Ayotte is at least a slight favorite in her race.
The Senate has not had a pro-life female since former Sen. Elizabeth Dole, R.-N.C., lost her re-election bid in 2008. All 17 current female senators are pro-choice, including all four Republicans.
There also could be three new pro-life female governors this fall: in New Mexico, where Republican Susana Martinez is in a tight race; in South Carolina, where Republican Nikki Haley is favored to win; and in Oklahoma, where pro-life Republican Mary Fallin is the favorite to defeat Democrat Jari Askins, who says she supports abortion only in the "hard" cases.
Experts say the nation has never seen so many pro-life women in so many prominent races.
For years, the pro-life community has had a goal of having more female pro-lifers in key political positions, something that would provide a unique voice in the abortion discussion. Although it is often assumed women are more pro-choice than men, polls show that is not the case. A 2010 Gallup poll showed 49 percent of men and 48 percent of women consider themselves pro-life -- a statistical tie. The two sexes have largely paralleled one another on that question in the Gallup poll for the past decade.
"The culture sees women as a natural authority on this issue," Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, told Baptist Press. Her organization seeks to elect pro-life females. "When men speak, people can hear the intellectual argument, but they want to hear if there is female support for the position."
People have a tendency to assume female politicians are pro-choice, she said, but this year "those assumptions are wiped off the table."
Most of the Senate's floor abortion debates have pitted pro-choice women against pro-life men; Sen. Barbara Boxer, D.-Calif., who is pro-choice, sparred several times with former Sen. Rick Santorum, R.-Pa., who is pro-life.
Dannenfelser remembers watching former Rep. Patricia Schroeder, who is pro-choice, debate the late Rep. Henry Hyde, who was pro-life.
"The floor debates were so false, because there were women on one side, men on the other," Dannenfelser said. "At the end of Patricia Schroeder's finger was always Henry Hyde's nose, and she would say, 'How dare you pretend to speak for women. You can't possibly know.' And he could have been right all day.... He and others said to me, 'We've got to have women doing this.'"
Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor at National Review, wrote a New York Times op-ed underscoring the importance of having female pro-life voices.
"Kellyanne Conway, a Republican pollster, says that her surveys have found that voters respond more positively to the pro-life message when it comes from women," Ponnuru wrote. "Pro-life women won't be suspected, or credibly accused, of opposing abortion because they want to keep women in their place; they can therefore talk about the issue less defensively than male pro-lifers sometimes do."
Following is a quick summary of the four Senate races involving pro-life women:
-- California: Fiorina, the former CEO of Hewlett-Packard, is trying to unseat Boxer, an incumbent who is seeking her fourth term. The race is considered a toss-up.
-- Nevada: Angle, a former member of the state assembly, is running against Majority Leader Harry Reid, who has a mixed record on abortion and has voted with the pro-choice community on several significant bills. The race is considered a toss-up.
-- New Hampshire: Ayotte, the former state attorney general, is running against pro-choice Democrat Paul Hodes to fill an open seat. Ayotte is slightly ahead in several polls.
-- Delaware: O'Donnell, a former marketing and media consultant, is running against pro-choice Democrat Chris Coons to fill the open seat vacated by Vice President Joseph Biden. Coons is the favorite.