WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. John Katko's approval rating among women reached an all-time high last week, only two days before a key vote that could cost him some of that support.
Katko, R-Camillus, voted Friday to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood for a year, reacting to a series of videos from abortion opponents who allege the group discussed the illegal sale of fetal tissue from abortions.
Planned Parenthood says it has done nothing wrong, and that the vote by House Republicans was simply an ideologically driven effort from abortion opponents.
Katko promised during his 2014 campaign for Congress that he would not vote to defund Planned Parenthood, but he said the videos made him change his position last week.
One top Democrat in Onondaga County says Katko's vote will likely cost him support from women at the polls next year.
"He's going to break a lot of promises because Republicans are held captive by the right wing," Onondaga County Democratic Chairman Mark English said of Katko.
"He is going to have to make some choices that are potentially going to harm him with women, and rightly so," English said. "I think people are aware of these types of votes."
Eric Kingson, of Manlius, the only Democrat to announce his candidacy to date for the 24th Congressional District seat, also seized on the issue after Katko's vote.
"We have an obligation to ensure that women and families have access to life-saving health care," Kingson told supporters. "It's clear from his voting record that my opponent doesn't share these priorities."
Despite his vote last week, Katko said he will not vote with House conservative hard-liners who are threatening to force a government shutdown next week unless Planned Parenthood is defunded.
Katko was among 11 House GOP freshmen who wrote a letter to colleagues Tuesday saying they would not support a shutdown under any circumstances.
Planned Parenthood is already prohibited from using federal aid for abortions, which account for 3 percent of the health services it provides for women. Most of the federal aid to Planned Parenthood helps provide for women's healthcare for the poor. About 78 percent of the organization's clients are women who live below the federal poverty line.
Planned Parenthood is permitted under federal law to provide fetal tissue to medical researchers, and to charge a small fee for the cost of storing and transporting the tissue.
A spokeswoman for Katko said he still supports funding for women's healthcare, and the House bill would have redirected money from Planned Parenthood to other organizations that provide similar services.
"John has been married for over 28 years to a registered nurse who has spent nearly her entire career working in women's healthcare," said Erin O'Connor, speaking for Katko. "There is no denying that access to health services is important to women and families throughout Central New York, which is why John has strongly supported funding for women's healthcare."
She added, "He has continuously engaged with women throughout the district on the most important issues facing our community – growing our local economy, creating jobs, shedding light on the devastating rate of poverty, improving access to pediatric mental healthcare, and addressing the growing heroin and synthetic drug epidemic. John has already delivered bipartisan results in these, and other, priority areas and will continue to fight for all of Central New York in Congress."
A poll taken in the days leading up to the vote last week shows Katko is strongly favored to win a second-term in Congress. Katko has an overall approval rating of 55 percent, compared to 22 percent with an unfavorable opinion.
The poll commissioned by the National Republican Congressional Committee found Katko's support is strongest among women. Women approve of Katko 56 percent to 19 percent, compared to men who approve 54 percent to 24 percent.
In last year's campaign, Katko managed a dramatic turnaround with women in his successful bid to unseat former Rep. Dan Maffei, D-Syracuse.
Katko initially faced a deep gender gap, with women favoring Maffei by 20 percentage point in a mid-September poll by The Post-Standard/syracuse.com and Siena College.
By late October, the same pollsters found Katko was favored by women 49 percent to 44 percent after his campaign launched an effort to reach out to women voters that included a TV ad with his wife, Robin.
In the TV commercial, Robin Katko accused Maffei of lying to women voters about her husband's positions on issues such as equal pay for women, abortion and birth control.