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Five Political Hot Spots

5 minute read
George J. Church

Abortion is expected to become a fighting issue in almost every state. But in a handful, it is coming to a head right now:

NEW JERSEY: First Target

Only hours after the Supreme Court’s decision inviting states to enact restrictions on abortion, Democratic Congressman James Florio, who is running for Governor, announced he would veto any such legislation if he is elected. His Republican opponent, Congressman Jim Courter, sought the support of the state’s Right to Life organization in a primary battle against seven adversaries. But last week Courter began to hedge, asserting that while he would support restrictions on abortion, he would not lobby the legislature for them. Courter, mindful that New Jersey is one of only twelve states that % permit Medicaid funding of almost any abortion, hopes to keep the race focused on other subjects. Says he: “My priorities are auto insurance and environmental issues and crime.” But the issue he is trying to duck may bite him anyway. The National Abortion Rights Action League, scenting a favorable political test, vows to pump as much as $500,000 into campaign ads to keep the spotlight squarely on abortion. Says N.A.R.A.L. executive director Kate Michelman: “The New Jersey gubernatorial race is the first example of what we are going to do around the country.”

MICHIGAN: On to the Ballot Box

Bills to deny Medicaid funding for abortions were vetoed 18 times in 15 years by a succession of Governors before pro-life forces got such a measure adopted by referendum last year. Undaunted, Democratic Governor James Blanchard vows to veto any further restrictions, including those contained in a package of bills that antiabortionists plan to introduce in the state legislature when it reconvenes in September. Early betting is that the bills will pass, but not by margins wide enough to override vetoes. So the battle eventually will be decided at the ballot box. Pro-lifers are already talking about starting a petition drive to force another referendum on any vetoed restrictions. The issue has split both parties: the staunchly liberal United Auto Workers has taken no position because of bitter dissension within its ranks, while pro- choice sentiment is strong in affluent, suburban and heavily Republican Oakland County, just north of Detroit.

FLORIDA: “It’s Going to Be Bloody”

Republican Bob Martinez is the first Governor to announce a special session of the state legislature to deal with abortion; he says he will call it sometime before mid-October. One legislator has already filed a bill mirroring the Missouri law upheld by the Supreme Court; pro-lifers plan to introduce further measures, including one allowing fathers to intervene in abortion decisions. But it is far from certain that any restrictions will be enacted. A poll in May found that 59% of Florida voters and 51% of state legislators consider abortion a private matter. Pro-choice Democrats will try to bottle up restrictive bills in committees, and if they fail, their allies will argue in court that a 1980 amendment to the state constitution spelling out a right of privacy applies to abortion. Whatever happens, both sides agree that the 1990 gubernatorial and legislative elections are likely to turn into a single-issue referendum on abortion. Says Janis Compton-Carr, director of the Florida Abortion Rights Action League: “It’s going to be bloody.”

VIRGINIA: Votes Yes, Money No

Alain Briancon cannot find the time to paint the inside of his house in Fairfax County because he has to keep answering phone calls from volunteers who want to work with his wife Maria in the Virginia Organization to Keep Abortion Legal. But pro-choice sentiment is frustrated as far as Virginia’s gubernatorial race is concerned. The Republican candidate, former state attorney general Marshall Coleman, is a strict antiabortionist who says that if he wins, he will appoint only pro-lifers to health and children’s services positions. His Democratic opponent, Lieutenant Governor Douglas Wilder, is seeking to become the first black elected to govern a state, and will not risk alienating moderate voters. So he has been waffling on abortion, proposing that parental consent be required for abortions on girls 18 and under and refusing to say whether he would veto any other restrictions. His indecision will not cost him pro-choice votes — “There is no alternative,” says Maria Briancon — but it may lose him financial support. Abortion-rights groups are planning to bypass the Virginia race and pour their money into New Jersey. To the extent that they make a major effort in Virginia, it will be on behalf of Democrat Don Beyer, a pro-choice candidate who is running against Republican Edwina Dalton, an antiabortionist, for Lieutenant Governor.

ILLINOIS: Role-Reversal Time

Republican Governor James Thompson has vetoed antiabortion legislation. Attorney General Neil Hartigan, the most likely Democratic candidate to try for Thompson’s job next year, has announced his personal opposition to abortion and, as the state’s top lawyer, is obligated to uphold some restrictions the state did enact. So which one is angling for the pro-choice vote? Guess again. Thompson’s vetoes were cast on the ground that the legislation involved was unconstitutional under Roe v. Wade. But after the Supreme Court’s Webster decision last week suggested that those restrictions might be constitutional after all, the Governor called for more time to study the ruling. Hartigan went the other way. Pressured by abortion-rights activists who insisted they would never “endorse anyone who is not unequivocally for choice and willing to say so,” Hartigan uttered the magic words: “I support the woman’s freedom of choice.”

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