Both Sides on Abortion Issue Plot Political Strategies

Article excerpt

TIMING AND TECHNIQUE are everything - in sports and politics.

That's why abortion has erupted now, and not months ago, on the Missouri political scene. That's also why you are seeing a difference in how both sides are playing the political game.

Within the last week, abortion has captured center stage in Jefferson City. Activists on both sides cite two key reasons:

Friday marks the adjournment of the Legislature until after next fall's elections. That gives both sides in the abortion debate one last shot at making a point with the politicians - many of whom will seek support from one abortion camp or the other next fall.

The Republican Party's state convention is this weekend in Springfield, Mo., and abortion is expected to be among the hottest topics. Anti-abortion activists, led by Pat Buchanan, are prepared to go all out to protect, and possibly strengthen, the state GOP's anti-abortion language in the platform. The Jefferson City skirmishes get the troops whipped up for this weekend.

With those two factors in mind, let's go back to last Thursday. While a fight over abortion in the state Capitol was threatening to derail the proposed state budget, Gov. Mel Carnahan was at a fund-raiser in Ladue for Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region.

Planned Parenthood was raising money for its new political arm to allow it to do more campaign-style activities, such as voter registration and education, political organizing and running ads on the behalf of favored candidates.

Planned Parenthood had been barred from such activities under its old legal status.

The group's leaders say they opted to make the change because they were tired of being a punching bag for anti-abortion groups, without fighting back.

Every year in Jefferson City, anti-abortion activists have lobbied legislators to block any state family-planning money for Planned Parenthood because the two organizations in Columbia, Mo., and Kansas City have clinics that offer abortions.

After Carnahan took office, Planned Parenthood got the money for a couple years but then found itself cut out again. The frustration has been particularly high with the St. Louis operation, which long has noted that it only provided contraceptive services and didn't offer abortions.

Now, that has changed as well. As of May 1, the local Planned Parenthood took over Reproductive Health Services, the Central West End clinic that offers abortion and other contraceptive services.

The takeover, coupled with the new political arm, transforms Planned P arenthood of the St. Louis Region into a more public and political role. …