- (Photo: REUTERS/Scott Audette)
All four Republican presidential candidates oppose abortion, although a closer look at their position reveals significant differences, which could become increasingly important as value voters become a key swing-voting block.
The significance of the evangelical Christian swing vote was apparent in Newt Gingrich's landslide victory in the South Carolina Primaries.
Gingrich took 40 percent of the vote, decidedly beating Mitt Romney's 27 percent. Both candidates attracted significantly more voters than Rick Santorum and Ron Paul, who walked away with 17 and 13 percent, respectively.
Members of the Republican Party are scrambling to solidly endorse a single candidate to oppose President Barack Obama in the general election.
With different candidates winning each of the first three primaries, voters remain undecided on who to back in the increasingly fractured party.
However, no matter the nominee, the Republican option will starkly contrast Obama, who supports Roe v. Wade, signaling that abortion could again be a critical issue for evangelicals voters.
Republicans in Florida will chose between Romney, Gingrich, Santorum and Paul on Tuesday, Jan. 31.
All four GOP candidates oppose abortion in the U.S. as it stands in its current state.
Paul and Santorum are the most opposed to the current laws. Both candidates want to ban the practice all together.
Santorum has said abortion should be illegal in all cases, even those involving rape and incest. He has also taken the debate a step further by calling for abortion doctors to be prosecuted for crimes.
Paul also fully opposes abortion. He also has previously pushed for federal "personhood" legislation, which would define life as beginning at conception. Paul, however, does not advocate for a strong federal government resolution to the debated issue, rather leaving the decisions up to individual states, which falls in line with the candidates libertarian tendencies.
The two apparent front-runners, Romney and Gingrich, have viewpoints that are less clear cut.
Romney, as governor of Massachusetts, has changed his stances on abortion. The largest swing for the candidate came in his opposition to embryonic stem cell usage. Over the last decade, he has increasingly taken stances to cut funding for such programs. Early votes by Romney in Massachusetts indicate he was less vehemently opposed to funding embryonic stem cell research – even supporting it. His position now appears to be that of allowing the practice to be legal but denying federal funds to fuel the research.
He changed his stances and became increasingly opposed to abortion rights during his tenureship as governor of Massachusetts.
Romney initially ran for governor on a platform of supporting abortion rights, a viewpoint held by an overwhelming number of voters in his state. He did, however, increase funding for abstinence programs and vetoed several pieces of legislation that supported abortion rights in the state.
Gingrich also went through a transformation of sorts.
The former House Speaker was sharply criticized by other candidates for previously supporting officials who voted against banning late-term abortions. Gingrich now, however, agrees to appoint only anti-abortion officials to key government positions. Gingrich also is in favor of ending federal funding for Planned Parenthood.
It is unclear how any of those viewpoints will resonate with national voters, who hold widely varying opinions on abortion-related issues.
Americans, according to polls, are about evenly split – half identifying as pro-life, half as pro-choice. The distinct disagreement involves the banning of late-term abortions and allowing abortions in cases of rape, incest and when a mother's health is in jeopardy.
Nearly 90 percent of Americans favor abortion when the mother's life is in danger, according to a recent ABC News poll. Nearly 60 percent agree abortion should be legal in most cases. Only about one in 10 Americans believe abortion should be legal for pregnancies beyond six months.
The poll shows high numbers in support – more than 80 percent – of cases of rape or incest and in instances when the mother's health or life is in jeopardy. That number nearly reverses for later-term abortions. Americans largely remain split for other abortion related issues, like using the practice just to end unwanted pregnancies.
Obama may be the only pro-choice candidate in the upcoming presidential elections.
The president has strongly supported Roe v. Wade, which creates the legal mandate to perform abortions in the U.S., but strongly said in his campaign that he wanted to reduce the overall number of abortions in the country.
His healthcare legislation may be the greatest indication of the president's stance on reproductive rights, including abortion.
Critics charge that Obama's healthcare legislation will fund abortion, because many of the community health centers it gives money to are actually run by Planned Parenthood. Critics also argue that giving money to states before the federal laws take effect in 2014 will be supporting abortion, because many states are not strongly opposed to the practice.
Obama's healthcare legislation does, however, require all institutions, regardless of religious backing, to allow birth control to be covered by company-issued insurance.
It is a move that has drawn sharp criticism from some, but points to the president's overall stance on the issue.
It is unclear whether voters will cast ballots based on their stances on abortion when other issues, such as the economy, appear to be dominating the news.