NEW YORK (AP) — Democrats and liberal advocacy groups have declared victory in what they called a Republican "war on women" and are celebrating the pivotal defeats of some GOP candidates who took rigid stands against abortion.
However, the issues in dispute — notably access to contraception and abortion — are far from settled, and social conservatives are already girding for new confrontations.
"We're going back to the drawing board," anti-abortion leader Marjorie Dannenfelser told fellow conservatives at a post-election gathering.
Dannensfelser said her organization, the Susan B. Anthony List, would seek to back candidates who can argue against abortion "with compassion and love." In an interview, she said Republican nominee Mitt Romney was too defensive on abortion-related issues and mentioned Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Indiana Gov.-elect Mike Pence as potential presidential candidates who intrigued her.
For activists supporting family planning programs and access to abortion, the election produced a series of triumphs, starting with the re-election of President Barack Obama. Groups such as Planned Parenthood and the National Organization for Women campaigned vigorously for him, and he won about 55 percent of women's votes.
"This is a resounding victory for women," said Planned Parenthood's president, Cecile Richards. "This election sends a powerful and unmistakable message ... that the American people do not want politicians to meddle in our personal medical decisions, and that politicians demean and dismiss women at their own peril."
The differences between Obama and Romney on some "war on women" issues were stark. Obama vowed to require insurance companies to cover birth control, preserve federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and protect access to abortion. Romney took opposing positions, and said he'd like to outlaw abortion except in cases of rape, incest and threat to the mother's life.
According to exit polls conducted for The Associated Press and TV networks, 59 percent of voters said abortion should be legal either in all or most cases, while 36 percent said it should be illegal all or most of the time.
Planned Parenthood and its allies celebrated the outcomes of a host of specific races, including the defeats of two Tea Party-backed GOP Senate candidates whose chances plummeted after widely criticized remarks about rape and abortion. In Missouri, Todd Akin said women's bodies have ways of avoiding pregnancy in instances of "legitimate rape," while Indiana's Richard Mourdock said pregnancy resulting from rape was "something God intended."
Akin's rival, Claire McCaskill, will be one of a record 20 women in the next Senate, 17 of them Democrats. Among them will be the first openly gay senator, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, and the first Asian-American woman, Hawaii's Mazie Hirono.
In New Hampshire, wins by two Democrats in House races gives the state, which has two female senators, the first all-women delegation to Congress. It also has a newly elected woman as governor, Maggie Hassan.
Even though the abortion/contraception debate gained prominence during the campaign, exit polls indicated it wasn't the paramount concern for many women worried about economic problems.
Elisabeth Jacobs, a fellow in governance studies at the nonpartisan Brookings Institution think tank, suggested there was a connection between the two issues that perhaps cost the Republicans the election.
Continue reading this story on the...