Abortion and votes: How will issue affect ’05 governor’s race?

Story by Chris Graham

Tim Kaine and Jerry Kilgore are still feeling their way around the abortion-rights issue.

They both might be well advised to find a path and stick to it – because the pending political battle involving John Roberts’ nomination to the United States Supreme Court promises to keep the issue in the limelight into the fall.

“This will clearly be a voting issue this year for a number of people,” said Ann O’Hanlon, the executive director of the Virginia chapter of NARAL Pro-Choice America, a women’s reproductive-rights lobbying group.

“In past years, it might not have seemed as immediate for some because no matter what the political climate was, it seemed clear that there wasn’t going to be any movement on Roe v. Wade,” O’Hanlon told The Augusta Free Press.

“But suddenly, with the Supreme Court vacancy, there actually is a threat to the established order, and with the heightened attention drawn to this by the nomination battle that is to come, it will be in the forefront of a lot of people’s minds,” O’Hanlon said.

It appears that Kaine and Kilgore are trying to walk the fine line between showing support for a woman’s right to make her own health-care decisions and showing support for what some call “the culture of life.” At a debate last weekend in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., Kaine noted his personal opposition to abortion while also indicating that he does not support moves that would “criminalize the health care decisions of women and their doctors.” Kilgore, for his part, talked up his record of working for tighter regulations of abortion clinics and efforts to ban partial-birth abortions – while stopping short of affirming that he would support legislation that would impose new restrictions on abortion.

“It’s a gamble for both sides, because abortion really divides people, more so than even the other social issues,” University of Virginia Center for Politics analyst Matt Smyth said.

“If you’re opposed to it, chances are you’re very strongly opposed to it. If you’re in favor of a woman’s choice, chances are that you’re very strongly in favor of that choice. It’s just something that seems to put people very clearly into two categories,” Smyth told the AFP.

“I think to some degree they can make the argument that you don’t want to say so much that you paint yourself into a corner that when you actually get into office you’ve limited your options. But you can only take that so far,” Smyth said.

Kilgore’s silence on the Roe v. Wade question at the debate with Kaine has some conservatives worried about a potential voter backlash. Liberal groups, meanwhile, are bracing for an anti-Kaine wave among pockets of pro-choice voters who are talking about pulling the lever for independent Russ Potts, who is pro-choice.

“Russ Potts is a staunch and outspoken po-choice proponent. How this will affect him is anybody’s guess,” O’Hanlon said.

“He’s obviously a longshot by virtue of running as an independent in the two-party system. But I’m hearing from some Democratic voters that say that they’re going to vote for Russ Potts,” O’Hanlon said.

“For a lot of voters, this election, the ’05 campaign, isn’t the end-all, be-all election of their lifetime. They’re willing to cast a protest vote this year if they think it can have an impact on what happens down the line,” O’Hanlon said.

“To his credit, Tim Kaine is very aware of the significance of this as a political issue. He’s also very cognizant of the importance of this issue to women and families in Virginia,” O’Hanlon said.

The conservative Valley Family Forum, with a decidedly different view on the importance of the abortion issue to families in the Old Dominion, is hoping the abortion debate stays to the right of center.

“We believe this is a universal value. Life is sacred from the moment of conception. I expect both candidates to hold this value. Not just Jerry Kilgore. I expect Tim Kaine to be there as well,” said Dean Welty, the executive director of the Harrisonburg-based group.

“This is a fundamental value that we should all hold dear. We should all be in agreement that the sanctity of life should be protected at all costs,” Welty told the AFP.

“We work with members of both political parties to advance this cause. Not just Republicans, but Democrats, too. This issue shouldn’t be a partisan one at all. The sanctity of life shouldn’t be a political football. But it is, which means that our mission is an ongoing mission,” Welty said.

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