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Abortion-rights supporters at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson on June 28, 2022, protest the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. (AP) Abortion-rights supporters at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson on June 28, 2022, protest the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. (AP)

Abortion-rights supporters at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson on June 28, 2022, protest the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade. (AP)

Tom Kertscher
By Tom Kertscher October 14, 2022

If Your Time is short

  • The Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade spurred Democrats to elevate the issue of abortion in their election campaign ads. 

  • Democrats’ ads attempt to portray Republicans who support laws that ban abortion with no exceptions as extreme.

  • Some of the ads make sweeping generalizations. They ignore what exceptions the GOP candidates do support or assume they hold views that they haven’t stated. 

Galvanized by the Supreme Court’s decision to end nearly 50 years of federally protected abortion access, Democrats are elevating abortion in their campaigns and putting Republicans on the defensive ahead of the Nov. 8 elections. 

Abortion was the top issue mentioned in broadcast TV ads in races for the Senate, House and governor from Sept. 19 through Oct. 2, according to the Wesleyan Media Project at Wesleyan University. Democrats have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on Facebook ads about abortion in the past three months, Axios reported, citing data from Bully Pulpit Interactive firm.

Some of these online and TV ads portray Republicans as being extreme in their anti-abortion positions. They insist these conservative candidates would ban abortion with no exceptions, even for rape, incest or the life of the mother.

"The ads are designed to either drive a wedge between pro-life voters and Republicans, which is bad for Republicans, or between Republicans and the median voter, which is bad for Republicans," said Mary Ziegler, a historian on abortion and law professor at University of California, Davis. 

How much the advertising will affect voters is unclear.

Asked whether abortion is a critical issue to them, 36% of Americans said yes, according to a survey sponsored by the conservative-leaning American Enterprise Institute think tank that was conducted Aug. 12 to Aug.  21. The top issues were inflation, gun policy, crime and what students are taught in school.

But 56% of registered voters said the issue of abortion will be very important in their midterm vote, up from 43% in March, according to a Pew Research Center poll conducted Aug. 1 to Aug. 14.

The ads on abortion "shift attention away from the economy and inflation to an issue that puts the Republicans on the defensive, while highlighting an issue that motivates not just the Democratic base, but has crossover appeal among independents and nonpartisans," University of Nevada, Las Vegas political scientist David Damore said.

PolitiFact found Democratic ads in U.S. Senate races in battleground states that were too sweeping in claiming that Republicans supported abortion bans with no exceptions.

Claims misleading in Nevada, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania

In Nevada, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, ads making the no-exceptions claims about Republican candidates for Senate were only partially accurate.

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which backs Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., claimed in an ad on Facebook and Instagram that Republican Adam Laxalt "would let Nevada and other states ban abortion with zero exceptions." Our rating was Half True

Laxalt supports letting states decide what restrictions to put on abortions. But we found no examples of Laxalt stating support for laws banning abortions with no exceptions.

Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, the Democratic nominee challenging GOP Sen. Ron Johnson, made his claim in a TV ad that launched in early October. A woman in the ad says Johnson "supported a ban on abortions. He co-sponsored a bill that makes no exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the woman." The claim is repeated in words on the screen, along with a New York Times logo. 

But Johnson has often couched his longstanding opposition to abortion with the need for exeptions.

A Johnson campaign website says he supports "exceptions to abortion restrictions in the case of rape, incest, or the life of the mother." He has also expressed support for adding exceptions to Wisconsin’s law.

Wisconsin's 1849 law banning abortions except in situations where the mother’s life is in danger went into effect after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision in June. Johnson said in September: "I’ve said about the 1849 law, it doesn’t include the exceptions" for rape and incest. "I would at minimum want it updated for that." 

In the race for an open Senate seat in Pennsylvania, where Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman faces GOP candidate Dr. Mehmet Oz, an ad from Planned Parenthood Votes left viewers wondering whether Oz supports any exceptions. Oz "is so extreme he'd ban abortion," the female narrator says. 

Oz supported overturning Roe v. Wade, but supports abortion access in cases of rape, incest and if the mother’s life is in danger. In an NBC News interview Oct. 13, he reiterated that position but also said: "I also feel very strongly the federal government should not — I’ll repeat, should not — get involved in state issues around abortion … I don’t want any federal rules limiting what states do with abortion."

In Georgia Senate race, ‘no exceptions’ claims more accurate

The no-exceptions claim was more accurate in ads for the Senate race in Georgia.

Georgia Honor, a super PAC supporting Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock, said in a recent ad that Republican Herschel Walker "wants a complete ban on abortion, without exceptions for survivors of rape or incest or to save a woman’s life." 

The ad quoted news stories saying Walker supported no exceptions and a video clip of Walker saying: "There are no exceptions in my mind." 

Walker told reporters after a May campaign speech that he supports abortion bans without any exceptions for rape, incest or the mother’s health, saying: "There’s no exception in my mind. Like I say, I believe in life, I believe in life."

A Warnock ad and ads from Planned Parenthood Action made essentially the same claim.

Republicans running far fewer abortion ads

Mentions of abortion in pro-Republican ads are rare, according to the Wesleyan report and an analysis by The Associated Press. 

The ads we have checked out from the GOP side have also presented the abortion issue in an extreme light.

Restoration PAC, a conservative super PAC, invoked "preemies" in a recent Wisconsin ad, saying Barnes supports killing "infants born prior to 37 weeks of pregnancy." The very nature of the word "preemie" implies that the baby has already been born. There’s no evidence that Barnes supports killing babies who have already been born. That’s illegal under existing laws. 

Laxalt took a different tack. The narrator in one ad of his blames Democrats for causing changes such as crime, then pivots: "But one thing hasn't changed: abortion in Nevada" remains legal.

Candidate giving birth in an ad

No-exceptions claims have also been made in Democratic ads in House races, including in Georgia, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Virginia; and in races for governor, including in Wisconsin

Democratic Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers claimed in an ad launched Oct. 4 that Republican Tim Michels "wants a state-mandated ban on abortion with no exceptions for rape, incest or the health of the mother." But PolitiFact reported a week earlier that Michels had done a Full Flop on his position, saying he supports exceptions for rape and incest. 

The primacy of abortion in advertising reached another level in Louisiana.

Democrat Katie Darling, who is running a long-shot campaign against Rep. Steve Scalise, the House Republican whip, says in a 75-second ad that she worries about a number of issues, including "Louisiana’s new abortion ban, one of the strictest, and most severe, in the country." 

The ad includes video clips of Darling giving birth to her second child, Ollie.

RELATED: Scaring voters to the polls? How political ads use crime statistics to try to sway voters

RELATED: Fact-checking ads in the 2022 election campaigns

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Our Sources, Georgia Honor "All Out Ban" ad, released Oct. 5, 2022, Warnock for GA Senate "One Issue" ad, accessed Oct. 4, 2022, Evers for WI Governor "Did You Know" ad, accessed Oct. 4, 2022, Planned Parenthood Votes "Don't Call Him Senator" ad against Mehmet Oz, accessed Oct. 4, 2022, Spanberger for VA CD-07 "Terrifying" ad, accessed Oct. 5, 2022, House Majority PAC "Live Free" ad against Karoline Leavitt, accessed Oct. 5, 2022, NRSC/Laxalt "Change" ad, accessed Oct. 7, 2022

YouTube, Team Punchbowl News post on "DCCC anti-Jim Bognet ad on abortion" ad, Oct. 6, 2022

YouTube, Senate Majority PAC "WI - Your Whole World" ad, Sept. 15, 2022

YouTube, DCCCVideo "GA-02: Freedom" ad, Oct. 3, 2022

YouTube, Mandela Barnes for Senate "Lying" ad, Oct. 3, 2022

YouTube, One Georgia "News Coverage" ad, July 25, 2022

Huff Post, "Democrats Launch Massive Negative Ad Campaign Against GOP On Abortion," posted Sept. 17, 2022; updated Sept. 19, 2022

Politico, "Republicans fight abortion backlash with ads — and stealth website edits," Aug. 30, 2022

Politico, "Democrats stake their House majority on abortion," Oct. 3, 2022

Politico, "‘Let it go’ or fire back: GOP candidates face tough choice under Dems’ abortion ad assault," Oct. 7, 2022

Associated Press, "Ad spending shows Dems hinging midterm," Sept. 20, 2022

CNN, "Republicans largely stay away from abortion issue in their ads. But not all of them," Oct. 4, 2022

Twitter, AdImpact Politics tweet, Oct. 4, 2022

Twitter, Katie Darling for Louisiana tweet, Oct. 3, 2022

Twitter, Deidre DeJear tweet, Oct. 6, 2022

Meta, Tony Evers ad on Tim Michels and abortion, started running Oct. 4, 2022

Meta, Tim Ryan ad on J.D. Vance and abortion, June 24 to Aug. 16,  2022

Meta, Raphael Warnock ad on Herschel Walker and abortion, started running Sept. 29, 2022

Meta, Planned Parenthood Action ad on Herschel Walker and abortion, started running Sept. 28, 2022

Meta, Planned Parenthood Action ad on Herschel Walker and abortion, started running Sept. 29, 2022

Meta, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee ad on Adam Laxalt and abortion, Sept. 22 to Oct. 4, 2022

Meta, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee ad on Adam Laxalt and abortion, Sept. 22 to Oct. 4, 2022, "S.91 - Life at Conception Act," introduced Jan. 25, 2011

American Bridge 21st Century, "We Have the Receipts: U.S. Senate Republican Candidates in Lock Step with Lindsay Graham’s New National Abortion Ban," Sept. 13, 2022

PolitiFact, "Senate candidate Blake Masters backs 15-week Arizona abortion law with no rape, incest exceptions," Sept. 16, 2022

PolitiFact, "Mehmet Oz supports abortion in limited cases, but wants Roe v. Wade overturned," May 11, 2022

PolitiFact, "Group twists Barnes' abortion rights position beyond recognition," Oct. 4, 2022

PolitiFact, "Mehmet Oz has said he supports more restrictions on abortion but hasn’t spelled out penalties," July 18, 2022

PolitiFact, "Ad Watch: Val Demings’ ad attacks Rubio on abortion," June 30, 2022 

PolitiFact, "Challenger Barnes vastly overstates case, suggesting U.S. Sen. Johnson backs outright abortion ban," Sept. 13, 2022

PolitiFact, "Tim Michels flips position on allowing rape, incest exceptions to state abortion ban," Sept. 27, 2022, "Issues," accessed Oct. 4, 2022, "For the Record: My Position on Abortion," accessed Oct. 4, 2022

American Enterprise Institute, "Gender, Generation and Abortion: Shifting Politics and Perspectives After Roe," Oct. 4, 2022

Pew Research Center, "Abortion Rises in Importance as a Voting Issue, Driven by Democrats," Aug. 23, 2022

Axios, "Axios AM," Oct. 11, 2022

Wesleyan Media Project, "Democrats Out-Pacing Gop In Senate Races," Oct. 6, 2022

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Ron Johnson wants Wisconsin voters to decide abortion laws by referendum. Here's why that's unlikely," Sept. 15, 2022

The Hill, "Herschel Walker says he wants total ban on abortion: ‘There’s no exception in my mind,’" May 20, 2022, "Herschel Walker says he wants total ban on abortion: ‘There’s no exception in my mind,’" May 21, 2022

New York Times, "As he runs in the G.O.P. primary for Georgia Senate, Herschel Walker says he wants a ban on abortion with no exceptions," May 19, 2022 

Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "Once a fringe idea, many Georgia Republicans now push for total abortion ban," May 13, 2022note

Interview, Mary Ziegler, University of California, Davis, law professor and historian on abortion, Oct. 12, 2022

Email, University of Nevada, Las Vegas political scientist David Damore, Oct. 12, 2022

NBC News, "Oz says he supports Biden on marijuana pardons and opposes federal mandatory minimum prison sentences," Oct. 14, 2022

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