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In key Pa. Congressional race, new Shaffer ad draws fire from Democrats on abortion

Republican Jeremy Shaffer's ad has drawn attacks from rival Chris Deluzio, who says it falsely leads voters to believe that Shaffer supports abortion rights.
Jeremy Shaffer for Congress
Republican Jeremy Shaffer's ad has drawn attacks from rival Chris Deluzio, who says it falsely leads voters to believe that Shaffer supports abortion rights.

A new ad from Republican Congressional candidate Jeremy Shaffer has reopened the abortion debate in the race for the 17th Congressional district — without using the word “abortion” at all. And Democrat Chris Deluzio argues that the spot is an effort to make voters believe Shaffer is not as conservative as he would be in Congress.

The 30 second spot begins with some biography, as Shaffer’s wife, Stacey Shaffer, recalls how her husband “delayed his own career to take care of the girls” they were raising at the time. She adds, “Being married to a physician, Jeremy knows the importance of decisions between patients and their doctors. And as a father to four daughters, Jeremy will stand up for women’s healthcare — and for all of us in Congress.”

As she speaks, a chyron along the bottom of the screen asserts, “Jeremy Shaffer will protect women’s healthcare.”

It is not clear what aspects of health care Stacey Shaffer is referring to. The ad deploys language often used by Democrats when they discuss abortion — that the decision to have the procedure should be between “a woman and her doctor,” for example. But Shaffer himself opposes abortion, and has been endorsed by Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America, one of the nation’s largest groups opposed to abortion rights. Last month, his campaign received a $500 contribution from LifePAC, a Pennsylvania-based group also opposed to abortion rights.

Democrats were quick to accuse the ad of being “misleading and deceitful.” A statement from the Deluzio campaign said the spot “attempts to deceive voters on [Shaffer’s] abortion position.”

“I support abortion rights, Jeremy Shaffer does not,” Deluzio said in the statement. “I fully believe that every woman should be able to make her own health care decisions in privacy and in consultation with her doctors and those closest to her. Jeremy Shaffer does not.”

Indeed, Deluzio has been endorsed by abortion-rights supporters at the National Abortion Rights Action League and Planned Parenthood.

The Deluzio camp is using the issue to suggest that Shaffer is far more conservative than his messaging suggests. Deluzio tweeted a photo of a mailing from the National Pro-Life Allianceurging support for Shaffer. Among the alliance’s causes is the “Life at Conception Act,” which would effectively ban abortion without exception nationwide. Deluzio accused Shaffer of "lying" about the issue because "his extremist views on choice are hurting him."

Shaffer’s campaign declined to comment for this story. But during the campaign, he has sought to distance himself from some proposals backed by abortion-rights foes.

He has previously said that if he were elected to Congress, he would not back a measure proposed by Pennsylvania Republican Mike Kelly that would effectively ban abortion nationwide around the sixth week of pregnancy. In a WESA questionnaire, Shaffer said he opposed the measure because it did not include exceptions for rape or incest. During the Republican primary, he said abortion rules should be set by the states — and that any federal action should be in the form of an amendment to the Constitution. That, he said, would ensure that Democrats wouldn’t be able to reverse any limitations if they held the majority.

Democrats have pinned their hopes on averting a midterm wipe-out on abortion, and there is evidence to suggest that the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision earlier this year to overturn Roe V. Wade and the constitutional right to an abortion may be galvanizing some voters.

That could be especially key in a swing district like the 17th, which includes Beaver County as well as suburbs in Allegheny County. The district is considered a toss-up by political prognosticators, and represents an open seat because incumbent Conor Lamb, a Democrat, sought to run for U.S. Senate rather than re-election to the House.

Lamb himself threaded the needle on abortion by saying he personally opposed abortion but would not seek to impose that view on others. Democrat Jason Altmire, who held portions of the seat years ago, also billed himself as an abortion-rights foe. And to the frustration of some reproductive-rights advocates, Democrats from President Joe Biden on down have sometimes tried to defuse tension around the abortion issue by citing concerns like privacy and women’s health care in lieu of the word “abortion” itself.

In the wake of the Supreme Court's move, Democrats have increasingly embraced their position on abortion. But arguably Shaffer's ad suggests that the language they've used in the past can muffle not just support for abortion but opposition to it as well.

Nearly three decades after leaving home for college, Chris Potter now lives four miles from the house he grew up in -- a testament either to the charm of the South Hills or to a simple lack of ambition. In the intervening years, Potter held a variety of jobs, including asbestos abatement engineer and ice-cream truck driver. He has also worked for a number of local media outlets, only some of which then went out of business. After serving as the editor of Pittsburgh City Paper for a decade, he covered politics and government at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He has won some awards during the course of his quarter-century journalistic career, but then even a blind squirrel sometimes digs up an acorn.