(WOMENSENEWS)–Unlike most advocacy groups, who wait until the general election before making an endorsement, the country’s two leading reproductive rights groups have already jumped in to back Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

NARAL’s Pro-Choice America Foundation and Planned Parenthood Action Fund are the advocacy and political arms of America’s leading reproductive rights duo. Canvassers from both are busy rallying in Iowa and New Hampshire, states with the nation’s first nominating contests of the 2016 presidential campaign.

But they are not just focused on the primary and presidential contenders at the top of the ticket.

All three Democrats–Clinton, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley–have a perfect voting record on reproductive rights, according to NARAL, the nation’s oldest abortion rights organization.

“In an ordinary year that would be enough to wait until the general election to endorse a candidate,” Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL, said in a press statement earlier this month. “But the bottom line is that 2016 is no ordinary year, women’s reproduction is under attack like never before. We need more than an ally, we need a champion and Hillary Clinton is that champion.”

Planned Parenthood’s endorsement of a primary candidate, the first in the organization’s 100-year history, shows just how extraordinary an election year this is.

“Every single Republican candidate is pushing dangerous policies that would block patients from accessing care at Planned Parenthood, ban safe abortions across the board and eliminate insurance coverage of birth control,” Dawn Laguens, executive vice president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, told Women’s eNews in an email interview. “Women can’t take a backseat in this election, there’s too much at stake.”

Some NARAL members noted on the nonprofit organization’s blog that they would have preferred an endorsement of Sanders, whose message of economic populism has resonated with young people and independents. These NARAL members prefer Sanders because unlike Clinton, he favors a Medicare for all health payer system and has refused contributions from super PACs and other mega-donors.

In 2008, NARAL’s endorsement of then Illinois Sen. Barack Obama in the month before Clinton dropped out of the primaries was also controversial.

Nancy Keenan, then president of NARAL, defended the decision by claiming that Obama was the more viable candidate because he led in delegates and could present a stronger challenge to Arizona Sen. John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee who opposed abortion rights.

100,000 Participants

Iowa’s Feb. 1 caucus is expected to attract 100,000 participants.

NARAL’s organizers are asking the nearly 10,000 individuals who signed pledges last fall promising to support a candidate who backs reproductive freedom to support Clinton. NARAL’s initial mobilization campaign targeted first-time caucus goers and those who had not voted since the 2008 caucus.

Sparking turnout of these voters is crucial because Clinton hopes to avoid a repeat of her third-place loss in Iowa’s 2008 caucus. Entrance polls showed that 41 percent of caucus goers participating for the first time supported Obama compared to 29 percent for Clinton and 18 percent for then North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

Dianne Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University in Ames, predicts that support by Planned Parenthood Action Fund will make a difference in this year’s caucus.

“The organization has a long history in the state and is well organized,” she said in a phone interview. “Sanders has been attracting large crowds, but they may not turn out for him as they did for Obama in 2008.”

The Planned Parenthood Action Fund plans to spend $20 million–more than it has contributed in any election cycle–in the presidential contest and Senate races in battleground states. Twenty-four Republicans and 10 Democrats are defending Senate seats.

The organization has a huge constituency that can be mobilized to help Clinton win on Super Tuesday, March 1, when 12 states–including six Southern states where Sanders’ campaign has floundered–will hold presidential primaries.

Large Constituency

In addition to 8 million supporters and donors, Planned Parenthood, the service provider, has 61 affiliates across the United States, which operates about 700 health clinics, including 13 in Iowa and five in New Hampshire.

In the U.S., 1-in-5 women have visited a Planned Parenthood clinic at least once in her life.

Election of a Democratic president is crucial for Planned Parenthood, which has faced an onslaught of attacks by Republicans since July, when an anti-abortion group based in Irvine, Calif., released highly edited tapes claiming that the health provider had sold fetal tissue to medical researchers for a profit. Last week Planned Parenthood announced it will sue the group behind the videos for “providing fraudulent information in violation of federal law” as part of what it called an “elaborate secret conspiracy” to discredit the organization.

Although five Congressional committees turned up no evidence that Planned Parenthood had violated any laws, Republican presidential candidates have vowed to strip Planned Parenthood of $500 million in federal funds that the organization uses to provide cancer screenings, birth control and other reproductive health services to low-income patients.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation, noted in a written statement following the Jan. 7 endorsement that Clinton was the organization’s greatest champion. “It is nearly impossible to count the many ways the former New York senator has stood up for the organization in her lifetime,” she said.

In recent months, Clinton has defended the organization in her stump speeches in Iowa and New Hampshire and was the only candidate who mentioned the importance of maintaining Planned Parenthood’s funding during the three Democratic debates.

Economic Security Link

Richards also praised Clinton for introducing the Paycheck Fairness Act and denouncing the Supreme Court’s decision in the 2014 Hobby Lobby case, which will permit owners of closely held, profit-making corporations to deny their employees’ insurance coverage for certain kinds of contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act if the contraceptives violate the employers’ religious beliefs.

Linking women’s economic security with their ability to access reproductive health care may solidify support for Clinton in the Feb. 9 New Hampshire primary, said Susan J. Carroll, senior scholar of the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in a phone interview.

“Although the Republicans’ positions on abortion are much more extreme than at any time since 1980, Clinton’s pro-choice position won’t be enough to swing the presidential race in her favor,” said Carroll.

“Following the example of Obama in 2012 would be wise,” she added. “Obama capitalized on the fact that the economy was the No. 1 issue by pointing out how the lack of birth control, cancer screenings and other reproductive-health services harms women’s health and leads to dire consequences like unintended pregnancies and poverty. This strategy was a significant factor in the 18-point gender gap between Obama and the Republican nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, which helped Obama win reelection.”

Emphasizing the link between reproductive health and women’s financial security will become increasingly important as the presidential campaign moves to the Southern states, predicts Terry O’Neill, president of the National Organization for Women, or NOW, the nation’s largest feminist organization.

“Many Republican governors have refused to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act,” said O’Neill in a phone interview. “As a result, many young, African American, Hispanic and-or unmarried women have been deprived of these services. In 2014, they didn’t vote in the midterm election, but if they do so in 2016, it will mean big wins for the Democratic presidential nominee as well as Democrats in Congress and state legislatures.”

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