Under fire from a Legislature that is dominated by social conservatives, Planned Parenthood is flexing its muscles in the hopes of influencing the outcome of elections this year and sending pro-choice candidates to the state Capitol.
Planned Parenthood Arizona formed a “super PAC” in February, when the debate over abortion and de-funding the organization was heating up.
The committee has so far raised more than $67,000, which could be deployed to help candidates who are supportive of Planned Parenthood or are widely regarded as pro-choice.
The organization won’t disclose yet whose campaigns it has contributed to, but it endorsed candidates last month, and while several are considered to be the underdogs, some will also be running in hotly contested general election races whose outcome would shape the partisan split in the Legislature.
Those who received Planned Parenthood’s endorsement include former Rep. Barbara McGuire, a Democrat who has said that abortion should be a choice between a patient and her doctor.
McGuire will be running against Republican Joe Ortiz in new Legislative District 8, a Democratic-leaning district that includes Florence, Coolidge, portions of Casa Grande and the Gila River Indian Community. Capitol observers say this race could go either way.
The organization also endorsed Democrat Michael Powell, who is pro-choice and will be running in the District 20 Senate race against Rep. Kimberly Yee, a pro-life Republican from Phoenix, and independent candidate Doug Quelland, a former legislator. The Republican-leaning district includes north Phoenix and parts of Glendale and features a large number of independent voters.
Given Republicans’ edge in voter registration in the district, Yee is considered to be the favorite to win the general election race, but many also said Quelland, a former Republican, could pull enough votes from Yee, allowing Powell to slip through.
The amount Planned Parenthood has raised this year beats the $47,500 the organization’s independent expenditure arm raised for the entire 2010 election cycle.
“The opportunity for us to have an impact on the races of candidates that we’re endorsing that are running traditional campaigns can’t be overstated,” said Michelle Steinberg, Planned Parenthood’s director of public policy.
As a “super PAC,” the committee can contribute bigger amounts to political campaigns — up to $1,736 for legislative candidates.
Steinberg said supporters were more motivated to give following the enactment of proposals in the last legislative session that further restricted abortion and targeted Planned Parenthood.
“I think the shenanigans on the part of the Republicans to promote government interfering in women’s personal private health care decisions… women do not appreciate this,” she said.
The pro-life movement and its allies at the Capitol broadened their attack this year, seeking to deal Planned Parenthood a crippling financial blow instead of focusing solely on restricting abortion.
They passed a measure that bans Planned Parenthood and any other group that maintains an abortion facility from receiving public funding.
The law is temporarily on hold and is being litigated in a federal district court.
The proposal to de-fund Planned Parenthood in Arizona came on the heels of failed efforts by pro-life activists to convince Congress last year to deny the organization federal funding.