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But Pennsylvania’s anti-abortion leaders say Casey’s ultimate vote to support the overhaul is unforgivable. The key question is whether the passionate opposition of the anti-abortion groups will complicate Casey’s re-election bid.
Exit interviews from his 2006 victory suggest that Casey drew considerable support from self-proclaimed moderates and abortion opponents. In a close race, any such erosion could make a difference. Nearly 40 percent of voters in Casey’s 2006 election said that abortion should be illegal, according to CNN exit polling, and he drew the support of more than one-third of those voters.
The religious vote also proved significant. One-third of the electorate in Casey’s contest reported being Catholic, and nearly 60 percent of them voted for him. But it’s hard to know whether those statistics will hold, given it was a year in which Democrats unseated Republican incumbents all across the country.
The head of Pennsylvania’s largest anti-abortion group said that Casey’s vote for the health care bill will erode any support he received in 2006 from cultural conservatives.
“Pro-lifers in Pennsylvania are terribly disappointed with Sen. Casey’s vote in favor of President Obama’s health care reform law,” said Michael Ciccocioppo, executive director of the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation. He added that he believes the legislation would federally subsidize abortion and deny care to the elderly through “the rationing of medically necessary treatments.”
“We know that Casey’s office was flooded with constituents urging him to vote ‘No.’ In the end, on the biggest vote of his career, he didn’t listen to the voters. Pro-life Pennsylvanians have long memories,” Ciccocioppo said.
Ciccocioppo’s interpretation of the bill, of course, is the subject of intense debate. Casey’s office said the Senator fundamentally believes that the health care bill does not fund abortions and ultimately provides quality health care to tens of millions of uninsured people, thereby further working to protect human life.
There’s also evidence to suggest that Casey has worked well with Pennsylvania’s religious leaders.
Philadelphia Archbishop Justin Rigali, who served as the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ committee for anti-abortion activities, distributed an open letter to Senators in May 2009 encouraging them to support Casey’s Pregnant Women Support Act. The major tenets of the bill were later adopted as part of the health care overhaul.
What then explains the conflict with the local anti-abortion community?
“I think there’s a lot of distortion of his pro-life record,” said Kristen Day, executive director of Democrats for Life of America, a national anti-abortion group. “I think Sen. Casey has been much more quiet about his advocacy. If you look at his record, it’s very strong. What he’s been able to do behind the scenes in the Democratic Party is very, very good.”
She noted the provision he pushed for in the health care bill that is now helping pregnant women in 17 states. “That was a pretty amazing victory from a pro-life perspective,” she said.