Abortion issue flares in Ohio after candidate 'flip-flops'

Jack W. Germond & Jules Witcover

September 12, 1990|By Jack W. Germond& Jules Witcover

COLUMBUS -- After a relatively quiet summer, the abortion issue is flying high again in Ohio's gubernatorial campaign, dominated by Democratic candidate Tony Celebrezze's celebrated switch, after 16 years of opposition, to the pro-choice ranks.

With polls indicating that Celebrezze, the Ohio attorney general, was hurt by his conversion, he has confronted the matter head-on in a television ad explaining his "flip-flop" of last December, several months before the May primary.

"I believe you can be personally opposed to abortion," he says in the ad, "while recognizing as I do that politicians shouldn't dictate" to women on such a personal matter.

The GOP candidate, former Cleveland Mayor George Voinovich, has replied with an ad that recalls Celebrezze's pro-life support and asks: "Isn't it unbelievable what some politicians will do to get votes?"

The Voinovich ad, crafted by Roger Ailes, the reputed Darth Vader of political advertising, has rankled Celebrezze's managers because it uses tape from their candidate's press conference announcing his switch. It was hijacked, they say, by a Voinovich campaign cameraman posing as a reporter.

The ad is straightforward but shows an obviously uneasy Celebrezze telling how he agonized for more than four months after the Supreme Court's 1989 Webster decision giving states a bigger say on limiting abortion rights. The ad freezes a frame of Celebrezze looking particularly uncomfortable.

Firing back, the Celebrezze ad men, Bob Shrum and David Doak, have now aired commercials accusing Voinovich of favoring friends with city contracts during his 10 years as mayor of Cleveland, and of past campaign advertising sleaziness.

The latest Celebrezze ad reminds voters of an ad (not by Ailes) that Voinovich's campaign ran in 1988 when he opposed Democratic Sen. Howard Metzenbaum for re-election. It accused Metzenbaum of being soft on child pornography, a charge that brought down widespread press condemnation on Voinovich and an indignant television defense by Metzenbaum's Senate colleague, John Glenn.

"Now he's at it again," the Celebrezze ad says, in "going negative" on the abortion issue. It goes on to say that Voinovich "would take away a woman's right to choice" while Celebrezze "would veto any bill that would take away" such rights.

The Voinovich camp, in a mild rejoinder that does not do justice to Ailes' reputation as a slasher, is now airing a commercial in which a woman who identifies herself as "personally pro-choice" says other issues count. "Come on, Mr. Celebrezze," she says, "let's talk about the other important issues facing Ohio."

Celebrezze says of the Voinvoich ads: "They can't afford to stand on the issue, so they have to divert attention any way they can, and they try to make it a character issue."

Voinovich has said that if a bill came to him as governor barring abortions except in cases of incest or rape or to save the mother's life, he would sign it. That position has earned him the endorsement of the Ohio Right-to-Life Society, which is furious at Celebrezze for his switch.

At protests this summer, the right-to-lifers have held pinwheels aloft and raised a banner saying "Which Way is Celebrezze blowing?" Noting that he once was quoted as calling abortion "murder," Janet Folger, the group's state lobbyist, asks: "How can something you believe is murder be good public policy?"

Democratic state chairman Jim Ruvolo says, however, that the right-to-lifers have been notably less vocal than in past campaigns. "I'm convinced they're under a gag order from the Voinovich campaign," he says, because sentiment in the state is now strongly pro-choice.

Columnists Germond and Witcover, members of The Evening Sun's staff, also appear in the Perspective Section of The Sunday Sun.

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