HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Republican Senate candidate Linda McMahon proclaims to be "pro-choice" in her television ads, but many abortion opponents, including a top leader of Connecticut's Right to Life organization, say they plan to vote for her in November.
It's the nuances of McMahon's abortion stance that have won their votes.
McMahon supports parental notification for minors seeking an abortion. She also opposes late-term abortions and does not believe federal funds should be used to pay for abortions unless it's a case of rape or incest or the life of the mother is at risk.
"Of the candidates that we have right now, she's the best one on those issues," said Chris O'Brien, legislative affairs vice president for Connecticut Right to Life.
He and other abortion opponents interviewed by The Associated Press said McMahon's abortion-related caveats show she's open to their point of view — unlike her Democratic opponent and avowed abortion-rights supporter, U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy. While some hope McMahon will someday change her mind on abortion, others are skeptical whether that will happen and believe she's the lesser of two evils in the race.
"She's far from perfect, but she's definitely better than what we have now and I think we can moderate the country's policy on abortion to be more pro-life," said O'Brien, who once ran against Murphy for the state Senate.
In recent days, McMahon has said she would oppose any federal rule requiring a Catholic hospital to provide emergency contraception to rape victims; Connecticut currently has such a requirement. McMahon, who is Roman Catholic, said she it's an overreach by the government into the dealings of religious institutions.
The former CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment, now WWE, has stressed however that her company provided contraceptive coverage to employees.
Connecticut has long been considered a state that generally favors abortion rights. A 2003 Quinnipiac University Poll found 69 percent of voters support making abortion legal in some or all cases, while 27 percent said it should be illegal in most or all cases. A 2006 Quinnipiac Poll determined 78 percent of voters supported requiring Connecticut hospitals, including Catholic ones, to provide emergency contraception to rape victims.
But O'Brien contends that support across the state for all aspects of abortion is not as uniform as proponents claim and abortion opponents could make the difference in the tight race between Murphy and McMahon. Both are hoping to fill the seat being vacated by the retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman.
In a September posting on Facebook, Peter Wolfgang, executive director of the socially conservative Family Institute of Connecticut, credited McMahon with not turning her back from the "middle course" position she held on abortion in 2010, when she first ran for the Senate.
"Linda is not pro-life," Wolfgang wrote. "But she knows the pro-abortion movement has gone too far and she has the savviness to know that most people agree with her."
Wolfgang has since withdrawn his official endorsement of McMahon because she changed her position on the federal Defense of Marriage Act, defining marriage between a man and a woman, and now opposes it. Wolfgang said, however, he'll still vote for McMahon because of the abortion issue.
Christian Miron, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut, said it's "past the point where (McMahon) can credibly claim to be a pro-choice candidate." He called her positions on reproductive rights "anti-woman and anti-choice," an argument Murphy makes repeatedly.
"I think the anti-choicers see the same thing that we see. They see an anti-choice candidate and so do we," Miron said. "Frankly, it's probably the one thing the anti-choice and pro-choice movements can agree on, that Linda McMahon is the anti-choice candidate."
Leticia Velasquez, an abortion opponent from Canterbury, said she's voting for McMahon, but not because she's a great supporter of the cause. In fact, she believes McMahon has "her finger in the wind to see what's more popular" because a true conservative can't get elected in Connecticut.
"I have to vote as far to the right as possible," Valasquez said, "knowing that I'm not going to be happy in the Northeast with my candidates' positions, by and large."