February 9, 1995 in Nation/World

Gop Can’t Pass Up Fight On Abortion 2 New Bills Dash Leadership’s Hopes Of Avoiding Debate

Peter Callaghan Mcclatchy News Service

Before the 1995 session of the Legislature began, House Majority Leader Dale Foreman thought Republicans would be too busy to get embroiled in a controversial debate over abortion.

“We’ve got a lot to do,” the Wenatchee legislator said in December. “We don’t have time to have internal squabbles over abortion and other things.”

Foreman and House Speaker Clyde Ballard, both considered anti-abortion lawmakers, tried to convince their majority caucus to focus on economic issues - especially those contained in their “Contract with Washington State.”

Abortion, it was feared, would distract the Republicans and quite possibly divide them.

The legislative strategy, how ever, lasted exactly one month.

Wednesday, the House held its first hearing on abortion bills in 14 years.

The desire for action on this moral issue was too strong among House Republicans for their leadership to keep it bottled up. As a result, a new strategy has emerged from GOP leadership. Since so much progress has already been made on the “Contract with Washington State” bills, leadership says the caucus members now are free to test the waters on other bills important to them.

“There’s a strong movement to have some bill,” said Ballard of abortion restrictions. “Originally I’d have liked to stay away from those items. But people have come in and said they’re not getting into the most controversial aspects.”

The bills discussed Wednesday would require parental notification for abortions performed on minors and would require detailed descriptions of abortion procedures, effects and alternatives before any abortions can be performed.

Abortion-rights advocates said the bills were designed to limit access to abortion. Anti-abortion activists said they were not abortion bills but were instead “communications” bills and parental rights bills.

Foreman said the bills will likely be discussed in caucus - closed door meetings in which only members of each party are involved. He said the discussion will not only involve the issues presented by the bills but whether acting on them will disrupt party unity and pose a distraction from the party’s economic agenda.

“People feel very strong both ways,” Foreman said. “We’ll sit down and have a full and frank discussion.”

The new openness on the part of GOP leadership is part pragmatism and part desperation. Ballard’s caucus is insisting on some abortion restrictions and there is little he can do to divert them.

And while the issue may still divide voters, it is not nearly as divisive among Republican legislators elected in 1994. There are thought to be at least 51 anti-abortion votes in the Republican caucus. In contrast, there are perhaps only eight abortionrights Republicans in the House - the lowest in memory.

House Law and Justice Committee Chairman Mike Padden, R-Spokane, said he did not know when the measures might be voted to the floor, where the GOP majority is expected to send them to the Senate. Because it has been so long since abortion was debated in the Legislature, no one is certain how the bills would fare in the Senate, but Gov. Mike Lowry has said he would veto any measure he found restricted access to abortion.

Lowry said last month that he considered any change in abortion law to be a violation of Initiative 120, which was approved by voters in 1991.

“Action to move away from that, I think, would be a mistake and I would oppose it,” Lowry said. And while vote-counts in the House are rudimentary, few think there are enough anti-abortion votes to override a Lowry veto.

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