Both Sides Claim Victories on Abortion in 1990 Elections RETRANSMITTING a0610 to correct
WILLIAM M. WELCH
Nov. 11, 1990
Both Sides Claim Victories on Abortion in 1990 Elections RETRANSMITTING a0610 to correct slugline With AM-On to 1992, Bjt
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Backers of legal abortions gained strength in Congress and among governors last week. But abortion opponents won races too - proving they can still defend incumbents and elect new allies.
In the end, 1990 provided something for everyone in the debate over abortion.
Abortion rights did not prove to be the political silver bullet that some had hoped it would be after the Supreme Court revived the issue last year. But few really thought it would.
Instead, abortion turned out to be an issue that can effectively decide some votes - not everyone's vote, but enough to matter in close races.
''Where you have anywhere from 5 to 10 percent of the voters who are deciding how they vote on one issue, that's dramatic,'' said Republican political consultant Doug Bailey. ''It clearly was a decisive factor - not necessarily the decisive factor - in a whole lot of races, in a whole lot of different ways.''
While both sides had victories, the issue seemed to have the most potency for abortion-rights supporters where there were clear differences between candidates, the candidates made it an issue, and the races were otherwise competitive.
''There is still a political advantage for the pro-choice side,'' said Democratic pollster Geoff Garin. ''But the results were slightly less clear cut this time, because the anti-choice side has learned how to play defense a little bit better.''
The election also showed that taxes and the economy can crowd out abortion as a political issue.
And it showed that voters are capable of ticket splitting on the issue. In Iowa, voters re-elected both an anti-abortion governor and an abortion-rights senator. In Oregon, voters rejected anti-abortion ballot measures while re- electing an anti-abortion senator.
''Where abortion was a fundamental issue, it cut for the pro-choice candidate,'' said University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato. ''But where other issues took precedence, then pro-life candidates were able to win.''
On the abortion-rights side, the premier victories were in Florida, where Democrat Lawton Chiles was elected governor, and Texas, where Democrat Ann Richards will be the new governor.
In Florida, ousted Republican Gov. Bob Martinez had led an unsuccessful effort to enact restrictions on abortions after the Supreme Court gave states new authority in its Webster decision last year.
Richards strongly supported abortion rights, but the biggest factor was her opponent himself, Clayton Williams, who made a series of embarrassing remarks including some considered degrading to women. Richards won more than 60 percent of the women's vote, and 25 percent of Republican women crossed over to vote for her, according to exit polling.
Abortion-rights supporters also had put a top priority on re-electing Iowa Democrat Tom Harkin, their point man in the U.S. Senate. He won easily.
Abortion-rights forces also won in Minnesota, where anti-abortion incumbents were defeated by Republican Arne Carlson for governor and Democrat Paul Wellstone for the Senate. They won the California governor's race before the first vote was cast - both candidates supported abortion rights.
Victories for the anti-abortion side included the election in Kansas of Democrat Joan Finney over GOP Gov. Mike Hayden, an abortion-rights supporter, Republican George Voinovich's election as governor in Ohio; and the re- election of GOP Sens. Mark Hatfield in Oregon and Jesse Helms in North Carolina.
Also, abortion foe Wally Hickel was elected governor of Alaska as an independent and Pennsylvania's anti-abortion Democratic Gov. Bob Casey was easily re-elected.
Perhaps the biggest victory for abortion opponents was their unexpected defeat of Michigan's Democratic Gov. James Blanchard by state Sen. John Engler, an abortion foe.
Abortion-rights groups pointed to Nevada's approval of a proposal to write abortion guarantees into state law, as well as Oregon's defeat of two anti- abortion ballot measures.
Abortion opponents also suffered a defeat in Idaho, where Gov. Cecil Andrus vetoed a tough anti-abortion bill passed by the legislature. Andrus easily won re-election, and the chief architect of the bill, Republican Roger Madsen, was defeated for re-election to the state Senate as abortion opponents lost control of that chamber.
All told, the National Abortion Rights Action League counts a net gain of four governors for their side. They gained two votes in the Senate - Wellstone and Republican Hank Brown in Colorado, who replaces retiring GOP Sen. Bill Armstrong, a fierce abortion foe.
In the House, abortion-rights advocates scored a net gain of eight seats, according to groups on both sides of the issue.
''Obviously, this means that the House will be more closely divided on abortion-related issues,'' acknowledged Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee.
He contended abortion opponents will still be able to sustain abortion- related vetoes in the House.
But in the Senate, the abortion-rights side may now approach the 60 votes needed to avoid anti-abortion filibusters.
Abortion-rights activists also estimate they gained new majorities in at least one legislative chamber in four states: Arizona, Idaho, Montana and Florida.
''In almost all of the key races, abortion was one of the top three or four issues,'' said Andy Kohut, president of Princeton Survey Research Associates Group, who analyzed television network exit polls.