Vice president disavows past anti-abortion statement
MILFORD, N.H. (AP) – Vice President Al Gore retracted his 13-year-old statement equating abortion to ”the taking of a human life” as he scrambled Saturday to keep the issue, a traditional stumbling block for Republicans, from tripping him up against Democrat Bill Bradley.
”Yes, my position has changed,” Gore said. ”I strongly support a woman’s right to choose and if (Bradley) disputes that, then he is making a mistake.”
Bradley began airing a new television ad in the state Saturday in which the former New Jersey senator calls himself the only presidential candidate who ”has been pro-choice for everyone all the time.”
Campaigning in Manchester, Bradley said, ”I was pro-choice from the day I entered politics. … It’s not an issue you can dance around.”
Meanwhile, the conservative New Hampshire Sunday News said it was giving ”an almost endorsement” to Bradley because Gore’s ”dishonesty in this campaign makes him an unacceptable choice for Democratic-leaning voters.”
The Sunday paper and it’s daily companion, The Union Leader, rarely endorses Democrats in presidential primaries. The papers have already endorsed Steve Forbes in the Republican primary.
To try and settle the bedrock abortion question for many Democratic women, Gore indulged several reporters’ questions as, coffee in hand, he walked through Milford’s town square.
Gore, who represented Tennessee in the House from 1977-85 and the Senate from 1985-93, was asked whether he still believes that abortion – in the questioner’s words – ”is the taking of a human life.”
Obviously prepared, Gore was quick to recall that he had qualified the statement at the time. ”I didn’t write that. I didn’t. I used the word ‘arguably,’ and yes, my position has changed,” Gore acknowledged.
Indeed, in a 1987 letter to a constituent, Gore wrote that abortion ”is arguably the taking of a human life.” In any event, Gore added that he ”would not use that phrasing today.”
Gore said the only abortion matter with which he had wrestled was whether public money should help pay for abortions for poor women – the Medicaid funding for abortions he says he now supports.
”I’ve always supported keeping abortion legal and I’ve always been attacked by the anti-choice groups for that position since the beginning of my career,” Gore said.
In fact, the National Right to Life Committee gave Gore an 84 percent approval rating for anti-abortion votes he cast while in the House.
By contrast, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League rated Gore’s House career decidedly ”anti-choice.”
Among the 30 votes the group scored against Gore was his ”yea” in 1984 to define the word ”person” under four existing civil rights laws to include ”unborn children from the moment of conception.” The organization characterized that as a move toward an ”all out prohibition on abortion.”
Nancy Greaney, a Gore supporter and former teacher from Bedford, was surprised to learn of Gore’s record but said, ”I’d never hold it against him.”
”I think people’s opinions and beliefs evolve,” Greaney said.
Ellie Bosman, an undecided Democrat who shook hands with Gore in the Milford square Saturday, was conflicted about reports of Gore’s abortion record.
”I don’t think it’s a crime to change your mind, but I wish more politicians would admit they changed their minds,” the retired teacher said.
Whatever the case, Bosman added, Bradley ”demeaned Gores character by implying he lied.”
Bradley had cornered Gore in debate on Wednesday, pressing him to concede his inconsistency on abortion rights. In the days since, the vice president has faced more questions about his record.
Bradley orchestrated the debate question and follow-up TV commercial in a drive to undercut Gore’s support among women and reverse his own slip in polls in time for Tuesday’s first-in-the-nation primary.
A front page article Friday in The Boston Globe, which has a large circulation in New Hampshire, questioned the veracity of Gore’s statement in debate that he ”had always been for a woman’s right to choose.” Asked Friday afternoon about the morning paper’s story, Gore, a former journalist and avid news reader, said he had not seen it.
A woman caller to New Hampshire public radio the same day told Gore on-air: ”I understand if you’ve changed your position in your career but … I don’t know how I can support your candidacy if you’re dishonest about such an important subject and especially on national television.”
Spooked at the prospect of doubt taking hold, the Gore campaign rounded up a testimonial from feminist Gloria Steinem and signatures from 42 members of Congress in an ”open letter” stating what Gore once had counted on being obvious in this election: ”Al Gore is pro-choice.”
That letter was e-mailed to hundreds of reporters and passed around a state Democratic dinner. It was followed by a list of 300 New Hampshire women pledging their support for Gore.
Gore spokesman Chris Lehane called the flurry of paper ”an effort to help the press.”
Gore also went to air Saturday night with a TV ad labeling himself ”pro-education, pro-environment, pro-choice.”
Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., and other Bradley backers stood outside Gore’s town meeting in Lebanon to distribute a 1984 letter in which Gore wrote, ”It is my deep personal conviction that abortion is wrong. … innocent human life must be protected.”
Said Nadler, ”He wrote this and voted to give civil rights protection to the fetus. So, if he says he was always pro-choice, he’s wrong.”
Inside, Gore told his audience that Bradley has sought in recent days ”to manufacture some differences on issues where there really are no differences.” Of the 13 questions he fielded from voters, none was about abortion.