"Our groups are fighting this like there's no tomorrow," Smeal says.

Planned Parenthood is already running radio ads in targeted congressional districts. NOW, both nationally and its state chapters, have begun putting out press releases and action alerts, as have EMILY's List and others.

Not everyone is convinced that the threat is so dire. These skeptics note that the Democratic-led US Senate, not to mention President Barack Obama, will stop all of the federal measures from ever becoming law, and that the more egregious state measures, once exposed, have usually been stopped in their tracks.

In fact, some suggest to the Phoenix that women's groups are doing more or less what conservative lawmakers are guilty of. Republicans, they say, are championing these measures to placate and energize their base; and women's groups are seizing on that to raise money off a false perception of emergency.

There may be some truth to that. But Pingree, and others, say the threat is real.

"It's an extremely serious time for people to get engaged," Pingree says. "This is serious — people are proposing a world we don't want to raise our children in."

"This particular economic climate, and this particular set of lawmakers, is unlike anything we've ever seen before," says Namey.

Bennett argues that Democrats can't be counted on to save the day — as evidenced by bipartisan passage of the Stupak-Pitts Amendment last year, adding harsh abortion restrictions to the health-care reform bill.

Others agree; in fact, Planned Parenthood's ads are targeting Democrats more than Republicans.

Plus, these women fear that Republicans are pushing measures so extreme that, even with concessions made along the way, there will be plenty left to show for their efforts in the end. For instance, perhaps Pence and the GOP won't get away with fully defunding Title X, but their final bill would still include significant cuts and restrictions, even after an eventual compromise.

And Democrats will be more likely to make such a bargain if nobody is putting loud public pressure on them to hold the line.


At stake in all this is not just women's rights, but also their votes.

As popular as these GOP initiatives are among a small core of conservatives, they are unpopular among the vast majority of voters. Polls show very little support for restricting family-planning services, for instance, or for defunding cervical cancer screenings.

Republicans are counting on these measures receiving very little attention among the general public — especially women, whose votes they are trying to woo.

In recent years, women — especially younger, single, and professional women — have been voting increasingly Democratic. That gender gap was largely responsible for Democratic gains in 2006 and 2008.

Last year, however, exit polls showed women splitting their vote equally for the two parties — a result that, if it continues, would almost guarantee long-term Republican majorities.

Interestingly, one of the ways the GOP tried to win that women's vote last year was by emphasizing the Republican women running for office. They even dubbed 2010 the "Year of Republican Women," and got much of the media to follow suit.

But in fact, the vast majority of those candidates lost, leaving women still pitifully underrepresented in the party — just 10 percent of Republican members of Congress, for instance.

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