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Abortion Rights Group Backs Clinton

May 26, 2000

NEW YORK (AP) _ An abortion rights group that had refrained from endorsing a U.S. Senate candidate in New York threw its support behind Hillary Rodham Clinton as her Republican opponent’s record on abortion was attacked by activists on both sides.

Rep. Rick Lazio’s campaign defended him against accusations that he is not a dependable supporter of abortion rights.

``He is, has been and will continue to be solidly pro-choice,″ Lazio campaign spokesman Dan McLagan said Thursday. ``However, like most New Yorkers, including former Mayor Ed Koch and Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Lazio opposes partial-birth abortion. This is a mainstream New York position.″

The Long Island congressman and the first lady are competing for Moynihan’s seat.

Earlier Thursday, Clinton won an endorsement from the National Abortion Rights Action League of New York, which accused Lazio of falsely portraying himself as a supporter of abortion rights.

``It is appalling. He’s running around this state calling himself pro-choice. Nothing could be further from the truth,″ said Kelli Conlin, director of NARAL-NY.

Besides opposing the procedure critics call ``partial-birth″ abortion, Lazio has routinely voted against government funding for abortions. Advocates say public funding can affect the choices available to poor women who rely on Medicaid, women in prison and women in the military.

NARAL had refused to make an endorsement in the race until now because the previous Republican front-runner, New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, was viewed as strong on abortion rights as Clinton.

Clinton said she ``respected and appreciated″ NARAL’s refusal to endorse her until now.

``That makes it even more gratifying to me that, now that the issue contrast could not be clearer ... you would give me such strong support,″ Clinton said.

Clinton also reiterated a pledge she made in February to withhold support from any Supreme Court nominee who opposes abortion. Several vacancies are expected on the high court during the next four years.

While NARAL accused Lazio of being anti-abortion, the Right to Life Party said his position isn’t nearly good enough for them.

``Rick Lazio is pro-abortion _ he can’t get around it, it doesn’t matter what NARAL says,″ said Ken Diem, chairman of the Right to Life Party, which intends to run its own Senate candidate.

Meanwhile, Giuliani, who withdrew from the race May 19, said Thursday he will return $2.8 million to people who contributed to his campaign and ask them to send their money to Lazio instead.

Giuliani raised $20 million and had $9.2 million left at the time of his last reporting deadline, March 31.

Since then, the campaign spent $2 million on a direct mail drive and will have about $1 million in expenses. Election laws require that Giuliani give donors back the money they earmarked for the general election rather than the primary; in this case, that’s $2.8 million.

As of last week, Lazio’s campaign had raised $3.5 million, compared with $12 million for Clinton.