Abortion issue returns to forefront

Republicans push legislation aimed at restricting procedure

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ATLANTA — With no immediate hope of overturning the U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing abortion, Republicans around the country are increasingly pushing legislation to restrict the procedure, and Democrats say they'll make the GOP pay in coming elections.

From statehouses to Congress, Republicans have advanced a range of ideas: banning nearly all abortions beyond the 20th week after conception; making abortion clinics follow regulations for surgical care; mandating that clinic physicians have admitting privileges at local hospitals; requiring women to get ultrasounds before terminating a pregnancy.

The issue, which is figuring prominently in early 2016 White House race maneuvering, energizes social conservatives who influence many Republican primaries and drive GOP success in nonpresidential years when the electorate is older, whiter and more conservative. And some Republicans say more moderate voters will support their agenda in the wake of the murder conviction against Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia abortion doctor who jurors determined killed babies who'd survived the procedure.

But Democrats and abortion-rights advocates say Republicans already have overreached -- the noticeable uptick in restrictions began with GOP gains in 2010 elections, before Gosnell's prosecution began -- and that moderate voters have other priorities.

"Defense workers are being furloughed, student loan interest rates have doubled and these Republicans insist on a relentless pursuit of more restrictions on women's freedoms," said Rep. Steve Israel, chairman of the Democrats' national congressional campaign for 2014. "Swing voters are by their very nature moderate; they want solutions, not ideological warfare."

The House of Representatives adopted a 20-week ban in June. It has no chance of passing the Democratic-run Senate. A top anti-abortion lobbyist, National Right to Life Committee president Carol Tobias, told The Associated Press that her organization is working on a bill with the office of Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who is a high-profile possibility for the 2016 presidential race.

North Carolina's newfound legislative supermajority wants to regulate clinics more heavily, though the Republican governor has pushed back after promising as a candidate not to sign any new restrictions. Texas Gov. Rick Perry called his GOP legislature back into session to consider a 20-week ban and sweeping regulatory changes after a Democratic filibuster derailed the measure and drew national attention last month. The legislature passed the bill Friday and it's headed to Perry's desk.

Rick Santorum, a failed 2012 presidential candidate who's considering another run, has traveled to Texas to lobby for the bill. Perry, meanwhile, is among several anti-abortion governors mulling a presidential bid. Scott Walker in Wisconsin recently signed a bill requiring ultrasounds before abortions, though a federal judge blocked the law. Louisiana's Bobby Jindal has signed several more restrictive bills, including two these year.