Possible Gore pick provokes protest

Bayh abortion record an issue

he's seen as running mate prospect

June 23, 2000|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON - In a mirror image of the debate roiling the Republican Party, abortion rights advocates are quietly moving to quash the chances of a leading Democratic vice presidential prospect because he favors banning a controversial abortion procedure.

Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, a moderate Democrat long thought to be at or near the top of Vice President Al Gore's short list of possible running mates, is coming under scrutiny by some women's rights and abortion rights groups for what they call a "mixed" record on abortion.

Although Bayh has always supported the constitutional right to an abortion and considers himself "pro-choice," he was among 14 Democratic senators who voted last fall to ban a late-term abortion procedure.

In addition, as governor of Indiana, he was on record as favoring a 24-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions, although he never proposed such a measure or signed one into law.

Kim Gandy, executive vice president of the National Organization for Women, said her group has told Gore campaign officials that "selecting a running mate who does not support reproductive freedom for women would be disastrous to his standing among women who care about women's rights - and that applies to Evan Bayh."

If Gore chooses Bayh, Gandy said, women's rights advocates might not actively embrace Gore's campaign, and, in fact, might stay home from the polls.

Similarly, officials with the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL), have told former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who is heading Gore's vice presidential search team, that Bayh's record on abortion is troublesome to them.

Christopher called NARAL to seek input on a number of possible running mates, said NARAL executive vice president Alice Germond.

"We shared information we have on all the candidates and shared with him our feelings that Evan's record is problematic for us," Germond said. "We want to keep the Democratic Party the party of choice. That's a more clearly made statement when the vice presidential nominee reflects the party's position and the nominee's position."

Gore campaign officials, asked about concerns over Bayh's record on abortion, did not respond.

Infighting in both parties

The protest over Bayh is an example of the infighting going on in both parties at this stage of the election year when vice presidential speculation is at a high pitch and interest groups are making their feelings known about names that have been tossed about.

On the Republican side, anti-abortion forces, a key part of the GOP base, are trying to thwart the selection of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge as the running mate to Texas Gov. George W. Bush.

Ridge, among the front-runners for the No. 2 spot on the GOP ticket, is one of a handful of Republican governors who support abortion rights. Abortion opponents have threatened to abandon Bush if he selects Ridge, or any other politician who favors abortion rights, and throw their support to Patrick J. Buchanan, the expected candidate of the Reform Party, or not vote at all.

Anti-abortion activists have long tried to keep Republicans who support abortion rights off the national ticket and have consistently drawn attention to the split within the party on the issue.

The protest over Bayh highlights the force of the abortion rights community within Democratic ranks. In 1992 and again in 1996, it succeeded in denying Robert P. Casey, two-term Democratic governor of Pennsylvania and an abortion opponent, an opportunity to speak at the party's national convention.

`Republicrat' in Indiana

From a Midwestern, GOP-leaning state, the 44-year-old Bayh is so persistent in courting the political center that he has been called a "Republicrat" in Indiana.

Abortion rights supporters concede that Bayh - whose father, former Sen. Birch Bayh, served for 18 years as a leading liberal voice in the Senate - is not viewed by them as "anti-choice," but as "mixed choice."

Last fall, Bayh was among the 51 senators who voted to reaffirm Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion, as an "important constitutional right" that should not be overturned.

He voted this week to allow abortions in military hospitals. Last year, he sided with the abortion rights position in four of five abortion-related votes - all but the ban on the late-term procedure.

"He is a pro-choice senator," said Bayh's press secretary, Mary Meagher. "He's long supported a woman's right to choose."

Dinah Farrington, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood of Greater Indiana, applauds Bayh's record as governor. On the issue of abortion, she said, "I don't know how his record in Indiana could have been better. He had been very clear during his eight years as governor that he supported a women's right to choose."

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