Abortion at Forefront of Governor's Debate
Byline: DAVID STEVES The Register-Guard
The flash-point issue of abortion rights is lighting up the Oregon governor's race like never before.
And that has Republican candidate Kevin Mannix and Democratic nominee Ted Kulongoski squaring off over whether they should even be having the debate.
Should the candidates for governor be scrutinized over their views on regulating or restricting access to abortion services by pregnant women and teen-agers?
Kulongoski, who's being supported by several abortion-rights groups, decided voters care enough about the issue to make it the subject of his first TV ads during the general-election campaign.
"(Mannix) is trying to argue that the governor has nothing to do with it. And that is just not true," said Kulongoski, whose TV ad states that `Kevin Mannix is against a woman's right to choose, and on the issue of choice, called his own views `extreme.' '
But Mannix, an anti-abortion candidate who has been endorsed by Oregon Right to Life, said his personal opposition to legalized abortions doesn't belong anywhere in a general-election campaign.
"My message is that the governor has very little to do with abortion," he said in a recent interview.
Mannix underscored that assertion with a TV ad in which he accused Kulongoski of "distorting my position" and "trying to distract you" from Kulongoski's own position on taxes and issues such as jobs, education and the economy.
A third candidate for governor, Libertarian Tom Cox, said he is "pro-choice" on abortion, although he opposed public funding for abortion services and supports requiring notification of parents before a minor receives an abortion. He said his fiscally conservative views and limited-government perspective on abortion and assisted suicide make him an alternative to Mannix.
In addition to the major-party candidates' dueling TV ads, a national abortion-rights group plans to spend thousands of dollars on its first-ever independent-expenditure campaign in a statewide Oregon race. All of this guarantees that voters will hear plenty more on the issue of abortion.
But should they?
Gayle Atteberry, executive director of Oregon Right to Life, said her group has identified more than 200,000 voters who vote for candidates based on opposition to abortions. And more than 100,000 voters are believed to choose candidates based on their support for continued access to abortion services, said Caroline Fitchett, executive director of the Oregon National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, commonly called NARAL.
If true, these estimates would mean about 16 percent of the electorate consider abortion to be a top issue when choosing candidates.
Both sides are working to reach out to their bases through phone banks and other means. But they disagree on how important it is to bring the abortion-rights fight to the general public.
Atteberry said Oregon Right to Life wants to keep the abortion debate out of the main election fray because it doesn't want its limited financial resources to go toward TV ads that would not generate much interest among average voters.
"We don't really want to make this as big an issue in the state as they want to," she said, "because we feel there are other things the voters are far more concerned with: jobs, the economy and their schools."
Abortion-rights groups counter that they want to engage the general electorate because it tends to vote "pro-choice" when it comes to abortion, as has been demonstrated in a series of statewide initiatives.
"Four or five ballot measures that Oregonians rejected over the last two decades might be some indication that Oregonians feel pretty strongly about this issue," said Maura Roche, a lobbyist for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Oregon.
Mannix makes no bones about his opposition to legalized abortions, a constitutional right since a U. …