Abortion rights group targets for defeat 15 vulnerable GOP freshmen in House All ran as abortion foes, but won their seats in '94 by very narrow margins

July 14, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- Taking a militant page from the opposition's strategy manual, the abortion rights lobby is targeting 15 vulnerable freshman Republicans in the House for defeat, preparing to publicize their votes on more than a score of anti-abortion measures as too fervid for their moderate suburban constituencies.

All of these freshmen won by margins of less than 5 percentage points two years ago, and the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights League has rated them the most susceptible to defeat in November.

Its strategists have decided that a crucial bloc of independent and Republican women can be mobilized to vote the freshmen from office once the extent of the Republican Congress' repeated votes against abortion rights and family planning is highlighted.

"This is the most intensive public education effort on abortion that we've ever undertaken," said James Wagoner, the league's vice president, contending that the Republican Congress had proved to be the most militantly anti-abortion since the Supreme Court upheld the right to abortion in 1973.

The "Contract with America" platform that helped sweep the targeted members into office did not emphasize opposition to abortion as strongly as the Republican House agenda has, the league's strategists said.

Intend to flood districts

They intend to flood the 15 districts with workers and pamphlets directed at moderate women, accusing the incumbents of voting to "close the door on your right to choose."

The incumbents' votes on more than 25 measures will be explained at campaign forums and in waves of leafleting that begin next month.

The highlighted votes were on measures that would, among other things, deny money to protect women's health clinics from being disrupted, end access to abortions for servicewomen overseas, crimp family planning aid, bar health plans for federal employees that include abortion coverage, end support for international family planning and ban human embryo research.

The abortion rights league declined to specify the representatives now or the cost of the campaign, saying that the representatives were in various areas of the country and that some were already trying to blur their records while campaigning back home.

One of those expected to be targeted, Rep. Randy Tate of Washington state, has made no secret of his opposition to abortion and expects to survive the league's single-issue assault, said Marjorie Strayer, his chief of staff.

"Our voters look beyond abortion, at 'real people' issues, the fact that Randy voted tax relief for families raising children and credits for adoption," she said.

Anti-abortion campaign

In reaching out to moderates, the league will be trying to counter the efforts of anti-abortion forces, which are already well into an intensive campaign of their own.

They are trying to turn the abortion issue on the rare late-term abortion procedure that Congress tried to ban this year, only to encounter a veto by President Clinton.

"Frankly, we're afraid of this," said Kate Michelman, president of the abortion rights league, conceding that even some moderate voters who support the right to an abortion have qualms about the procedure as depicted by opponents in Congress.

In this operation, used in less than 1 percent of legal abortions, a physician partially extracts the fetus late in the pregnancy, then collapses the skull and suctions out the brain before completing the abortion.

The procedure is used for severely deformed fetuses. Opponents term it "partial birth" abortion and denounce it as elective infanticide.

"Clearly, at the outset the opposition had the upper hand with sensationalistic diagrams and 30-second attack ads," Wagoner said.

"But the women's own stories are turning it around," he said, referring to the league's counteroffensive of having women come forward to defend their decisions to follow doctors' recommendations for late-term abortions.

He said studies of focus groups had shown that the best way to counter the opposition's grisly characterization of the procedure was with the wrenching testimony of women who discovered, late in pregnancy, that their fetuses were fatally deformed.

To attend GOP convention

The league intends to have some of these women and their families at the Republican presidential convention and on satellite television programs next month to present their side of the issue if, as expected, convention delegates dwell on the procedure graphically.

Both sides are preparing for the issue to be revisited in mid-campaign when Congress plans to try to override Clinton's veto. The president argued that the ban passed by Congress was unconstitutional because it failed to protect the lives of women.

Late-term abortion is already an issue between Clinton and his Republican challenger, Bob Dole, who accused the president of pushing "the limits of decency too far" with his veto in May.

To promote the veto override effort, Roman Catholic bishops across the nation ordered Masses, bell ringing, prayer and fasting last Thursday.

In addition, the National Right-to-Life Committee has an extensive grass-roots protest under way pressing for an override.

Pub Date: 7/14/96

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