EVER since the Supreme Court's landmark decision on abortion rights last summer, the abortion battlefield has switched from the national to the state and local levels. Although President Bush can breathe a sigh of relief after avoiding yet another major political decision, governors and state legislators aren't so lucky. They must deal with a political landmine that was hidden for more than 15 years.
The nation watched intently as the abortion issue took center stage in gubernatorial races in New Jersey and Virginia this fall. Pro-choice Virginia governor Douglas Wilder's victory over his anti-abortion opponent received almost as much attention as the fact that Wilder, the descendant of slaves, is the first Black to be elected governor since Reconstruction.
Now its Massachusetts' turn to face the issue. Next January, for the first time since 1983, a new face will be occupying the Corner Office. While the next few months should be spent choosing a leader who will lead this troubled state into stabler fiscal ground, what may result is a political witch-hunt, with each side of the abortion issue attempting to brand candidates "politically correct" or "incorrect."
If abortion continues to serve as a litmus test for the governor's race, the biggest losers will be the citizens of Massachusetts.
THE Massachusetts Republican Party supposedly dealt with the abortion issue at last month's state convention. Many interpreted anti-abortion Steven Pierce's defeat of pro-choice William Weld '66 for the gubernatorial nomination as a mandate for the anti-abortion position.
It is too simple, however, to reduce this result into these terms. The choice of Pierce is a combination of many factors: his experience as elected legislator (a position Weld has never held), his House leadership and, perhaps, a backlash against Weld's more liberal views and blue-blood ancestry. While Pierce's anti-abortion stance did play a role in his winning the nomination, it was not the major one that both anti-abortion and pro-choice activists would like to believe.
Soon it will be the Democrats' turn to wrestle with the issue, despite the fact that the party's nomination will also not be a clear-cut statement on the abortion question.
Democratic front-runner Francis X. Bellotti typifies the politician floundering in an attempt to attain "political correctness," Soon after the Webster decision in July, the former attorney general said he was "outraged" at the Supreme Court. Strong words from a man who spent decades in the Massachusetts political sphere with nary a word on the issue.
His statement received justified skepticism from the pro-choice camp, as well as justified disappointment from anti-abortionists who misinterpreted Bellotti's silence on the issue as implied support for their cause.
Not surprisingly, Lt. Gov. Evelyn Murphy--who has trumpeted throughout her political career her unconditional support for a woman's right to abort her fetus--immediately attacked his "outrage," and the two have been snarling at each other ever since.
The two other Democratic candidates for the nomination, Jack Flood and John Silber, are far more conservative than their colleagues on the issue. They are also far more behind in the polls. It would be fallacious, however, to correlate their conservative opinions on abortion to their poor poll showings.
Flood is a virtual no-name, a newcomer whose political time has yet to come, if ever. Silber's low poll numbers do not even have to be explained. Nevertheless, abortion will get its share--probably the majority--of debate at the Democratic convention, as well as throughout the entire campaign season.
Focusing solely on abortion would be unfortunate. It would be a mistake and an outrage to reduce this important gubernatorial race to Choice versus Life.
The day after the Webster decision, pro-choice activists held a rally and declared all anti-abortion politicans politically dead. They vowed to organize plans to oust any elected official who disagrees with their position. The anti-abortion camp has been far less vocal in the aspect, but many anti-abortionists would only vote for candidates who agree with them. This closed-minded attitude is destructive to democracy.
Politicians are notorious for their straddling of the issue. Cecil Andrus, governor of Idaho, had made a political career out of being an anti-abortion Democrat, but vetoed one of the toughest anti-abortion laws in the nation. Ronald Reagan, the self-appointed saint of the movement, signed one of the most liberal pieces of pro-choice legislation while governor of California.
If the tides of opinion on abortion changed suddenly in this state, could anyone be assured that formerly prochoice politicians would not reconsider their previous convictions?
More importantly, however, it is dangerous to reduce our world to good and bad on the basis of one criterion. Should a candidate's "political correctness" be the only qualification for office?
PRO-CHOICE activists argue that a woman's right to choose is a right. Anti-abortionists argue that a baby's right-to-life is a right. But don't the citizens of Massachusetts have the right to live in the best conditions possible? The right to economic stability? The right to a decent education? The right to, adequate human services? The right to a clean environment? The right to be protected from crime?
And don't qualified potential leaders have the right to enter an election with confidence that they will be judged on their record and their positions on all the issues, not just one?
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is in extremely dire straits economically. We need a leader who can manage this state effectively, not one whose only qualification is a stamp of approval from a single-issue lobby.