NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Anti-abortion activists who have been a big part of the Republican coalition in recent years are working to ensure that President Bush's sagging popularity won't harm re-election prospects for incumbents who've supported their cause.
The activists also are nervous about whether a far-reaching South Dakota law banning almost all abortions could withstand a legal challenge.
Against this setting, leaders of the National Right to Life Committee acknowledged Friday that several congressional races will be tough, with the possibility that discontent with Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress will result in losses in November and a setback for the movement.
"It's going to be a difficult year," said Karen Cross, political director for the group, which is holding its annual, three-day meeting in Nashville. "We're going to try to protect our pro-life incumbents and win open seats and defeat pro-abortion candidates or incumbents."
The group is considered the nation's largest anti-abortion organization with affiliates in all 50 states and 3,000 local chapters.
Many in attendance were encouraged by the South Dakota law, which bans abortion in all cases except when necessary to save a woman's life, with no exceptions for rape or incest. Voters in the state will decide on Nov. 7 if the law should go into effect; opponents recently collected enough signatures to put it on the ballot.
But anti-abortion activists expressed concern about whether it could survive a legal challenge before the Supreme Court.
"The effort there is premature at this point," said Wanda Franz, president of the National Right to Life. "We know for sure we don't have enough justices to overturn Roe at this point. We feel that any effort to try to prematurely pass legislation that might go before the court is misplaced at this point because we know it will be overturned.
"We want to have the court in place before we have legislation going up there. We want the best possible outcome," she said.
The activists were heartened by Bush's appointment of conservative justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito, seeing them as two votes to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling legalizing abortion.
The activists credit Bush with doing all he can to reshape the federal courts with anti-abortion rights judges. "We think Bush has been a phenomenal pro-life president," Franz said.
Bush spoke to the convention Friday by recorded video message, praising the group's work to ban abortion and citing his own efforts to outlaw what critics call partial-birth abortion.
"Human life is the gift of creation, and it deserves protection at all its stages," Bush said.
Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said she expects abortion to be a critical issue in the midterm elections and that a backlash against Republicans could endanger anti-abortion candidates.
"We are confident that America's pro-choice majority will go to the polls in November to elect candidates who share their mainstream values," she said.
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