Quayle finds self on defensive again after answer to abortion question

July 24, 1992|By New York Times News Service The Chicago Tribune contributed to this article.

LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Under increasing pressure to prove that he is a political asset, Vice President Dan Quayle found himself on the defensive once again yesterday, this time on abortion, an issue that is central to his appeal to his conservative base.

Mr. Quayle intended to use yesterday's trip to Indiana and Kentucky to shift blame for the country's economic troubles to the Democratic majority in Congress, but much of that message was obscured by the political storm surrounding his comments on Wednesday night that he would support his daughter if, as an adult, she chose to have an abortion.

Mr. Quayle, his wife and his aides all maintained yesterday that the comment did not represent a softening of the vice president's rigorous opposition to abortion rights. Mr. Quayle and his wife, Marilyn, both said yesterday that if their daughter, Corinne, who is 13, became pregnant now, they would insist that she carry the pregnancy to term.

"Under the current situation, she would have the child," Mr. Quayle said at a news conference in Evansville, Ind.

But Mr. Quayle's remark about his daughter nonetheless provided fresh ammunition for Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton, the Democratic presidential nominee, and his supporters at a time when the Bush-Quayle campaign is desperately trying to move onto the offensive.

Mr. Clinton, speaking to reporters on the way to the governor's office in Little Rock, Ark., said he did not think he should comment on Mr. Quayle's statement about his daughter. But, he added, "I think it reinforces my position that these matters should not be turned back into crimes."

Later, Mr. Clinton said: "My impression is he was asked a question that he was not prepared for, prepped for. He answered it as a father, not a vice president."

For Mr. Quayle, the abortion flap meant yet another suspension of political momentum. He faced a similar problem last month when his offensive on family values stalled after his misspelled the word potato in a New Jersey classroom.

"He really gets on a roll and then something like the potato thing just stops it," said one White House official, who requested anonymity. "It's too bad because the disarray and drift in the campaign has given him the opportunity and the obligation to push the edge of the envelope."

This time, the trouble came at a juncture when Republican leaders, including some members of Congress, have been talking among themselves about dumping Mr. Quayle from the ticket to stop President Bush's decline in the polls.

The exchange on CNN's Larry King show that triggered the recent round of the debate began when Mr. Quayle himself raised the issue in the context of why he favored Pennsylvania's abortion restrictions, most of which were recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

"My daughter, for example," he said. "If she wants to take an aspirin at school, she has to call and get permission. And if she wants to have an abortion, she doesn't. I'm not sure that's right. I don't think it is."

Mr. King immediately asked: "What if your daughter grew up and had a problem, came to you with that problem all fathers fear? How would you deal with it?"

Mr. Quayle, after first noting it was a hypothetical situation, replied: "I would counsel her and talk to her and support her on whatever decision she made."

"And if that decision was abortion, you'd support her as a parent?" Mr. King pressed.

"I'd support my daughter. I'd hope that she wouldn't make that decision," Mr. Quayle answered.

The Republican Party platform, which should be adopted at next month's convention, calls for a constitutional amendment to ban abortions. Mr. Quayle has long opposed abortion except in cases of rape, incest or when the life of the mother is in danger.

Mr. Quayle's statements were "consistent with his pro-life views, his role as a parent and the reality that abortion is legal," said Wanda Franz, the president of the National Right To Life Committee.

But supporters of abortion rights eagerly used Mr. Quayle's comments to portray him as a hypocrite.

"While we welcome Vice President Quayle's new-found respect for his own daughter's freedom to choose, we regret that he and President Bush want to take that same freedom away from everyone else," said Kate Michelman, the president of the National Abortion Rights Action League.

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