In the News

Abortion Overshadowed by Security, Other Issues


WASHINGTON — President Bush doesn’t talk about it on the campaign trail.

Democrat John Kerry discusses it only before small gatherings of supporters.

The presidential candidates are giving the traditionally hot-button issue of abortion the silent treatment. Both candidates are quiet because they don’t want to alienate swing voters, pollsters say.

“We don’t bring it up on the campaign trail because we have consistently said that this campaign is about the war and the economy,” said Reed Dickens, a spokesman for the Bush-Cheney campaign. “But President Bush has consistently said he supports a culture of life, mostly to faith-based groups.”

The Kerry-Edwards campaign also downplays the issue.

“He believes in a woman’s right to choose, but there are other issues that women care about like jobs and health care,” Kerry spokeswoman Debra DeShong said.

Muskogee voters Linda Gragg and Howard Jayne agree that abortion is an important issue but not their top priority.

Gragg, a Republican who opposes abortion and plans to vote for Bush, said her top priority is controlling federal spending and the size of government.

“I would vote for somebody who was not pro-life if they supported my views about smaller government and I agreed with them about other issues,” Gragg said.

Gragg said she doesn’t think it’s necessary for the presidential candidates to discuss abortion because “people know where they stand.”

Jayne, a Democrat who plans to vote for Kerry, said he supports abortion rights but it isn’t his top issue either.

“I just don’t think it’s the government’s place to make somebody else’s personal decision,” said Jayne, a retired history teacher at Muskogee High School. Jayne said his top concerns are domestic issues such as jobs and health care.

Nationally, about 2 percent of voters view abortion as the top issue. Three of those voters are Michelle Chin, 21; Dave Holman, 23; and Anne Hartman, 22.

“I don’t feel that it is right that the government can say what a woman can or can’t do with her body,” said Chin, a senior at Rutgers University in New Jersey who is voting for Kerry.

Chin said reproductive rights are not her only priority, but the issue edges out others such as foreign policy because she believes that the Republican Party’s goal is to outlaw abortion.

“I agree with President Bush’s foreign policy,” Chin said. “But I have to think of my top priority today, and that’s reproductive rights.”

Holman and Hartman, both fellows at the Family Research Council here, say they are passionate about their positions opposing abortion and will vote for Bush.

“It is a deciding factor for me,” said Holman of Missoula, Mont., who recently earned a master’s degree from the University of Chicago.

Advocates on both sides say voters like Chin, Holman and Hartman could make a difference in states where the presidential race is close.

In the 2000 election, former Vice President Al Gore won the popular vote by more than a half million votes but lost in the Electoral College to Bush, 271-266.

In six states, the winner was decided by a margin of 2 percentage points or less. Gore inched by Bush in Iowa, New Mexico, Oregon and Wisconsin. Bush took Florida and New Hampshire.

In a close election, social issues like abortion could increase turnout among a candidate’s most loyal supporters, according to Carroll Doherty, editor of the Pew Research Center.

“You can’t overlook any of these social issues, including abortion,” Doherty said. “It’s one of those sleeper issues that could sway the voters to win a swing state.”

In a Pew Research Center poll of 1,512 voters conducted Aug. 5-10, abortion was a top concern for 54 percent of Bush supporters, ahead of gay marriage. Terrorism and moral values were higher priorities.

Among Kerry supporters, 36 percent said abortion was a top concern. But health care and the economy were higher priorities for most Kerry backers. The poll’s margin of error was plus or minus 3 percentage points.

With the presidential election less than five weeks away, both sides are trying to energize supporters in key states like Colorado, Missouri, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and Wisconsin.

“There’s no doubt we feel we can make a difference in these states, particularly with young women voters,” said David Seldin, a spokesman for NARAL Pro-Choice America.

On Monday, the group issued a report that said the president’s support for anti-abortion policies, judicial appointments and legislation “advance the goal of eliminating entirely a woman’s right to choose.”

Bush signed legislation restricting a procedure that abortion opponents call “partial birth” abortion. Three federal judges have struck down the law, and it is expected to land in the Supreme Court.

Dave Plemmons, chairman of Missouri Right to Life’s political action committee, said Bush’s campaign has animated abortion opponents in his state.

“This is a president of pro-life action, not just a person of pro-life semantics,” Plemmons said.

Those against abortion and those who favor abortion rights want the candidates to speak out on the issue.

“We think the pro-life issue is an election winner and that President Bush should be more vocal,” said Jayd Henricks, a lobbyist for the Family Research Council.

Francis Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, said Kerry could appeal to more women voters in battleground states by speaking about abortion rights. “He could frame the issue in a way that wouldn’t offend the middle ground by speaking about the trust he has in women to make health decisions, and the enormous suffering of women who don’t have access to legal abortions, ” Kissling said.

This article courtesy of Gannett News Service.

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