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Location: Strasburg, Virginia

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Kilgore’s stance on abortion rights worries Democrats; B2

Legislators ponder candidate’s non-answer to question at gubernatorial debate in W.Va.

By Garren Shipley
(Daily Staff Writer)

What does Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s retirement from the Supreme Court have to do with the race for Virginia’s governor’s mansion?

Maybe a lot, maybe nothing. But some Democrats in Richmond want to make it part of the race.

Three female Democratic delegates told reporters during a conference call Monday that they are concerned with gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore’s reported non-answer during Saturday’s debate on whether he supports the Roe v. Wade abortion decision.

There’s a chance that the court could revisit Roe v. Wade, and the decision could be overturned if President Bush appoints, and the Senate approves, a new justice to the right of O’Connor, the first female member of the high court.

“I think … [there is a] very real possibility that Roe. v. Wade will be overturned and sent back to the states,” said Del. Kris Amundson, D-Mount Vernon.

During Saturday’s West Virginia debate, Kilgore, Virginia’s former attorney general and Republican nominee for governor, declined to answer a hypothetical question about how his administration would react should the landmark 1973 decision legalizing abortion be overturned.

Kilgore spokesman Tim Murtaugh said that Kilgore’s stance remains the same: He’s pro-life and opposes abortion, except in cases of rape, incest or where the mother’s life or health is in jeopardy.

Any new legislation that came before a Kilgore administration would be screened using those same values, he said.

Regardless of what President Bush, the U.S. Senate, the U.S. Supreme Court and the next General Assembly do, the next governor of Virginia won’t have time to touch the issue, Murtaugh said.

The next governor “will be long gone before this ever happens,” he said. “This is a campaign issue for the 2009 gubernatorial election.”

Some Democrats in Richmond disagree.

“I know it’s what the House is going to send [the next governor], and it’s everybody’s worst nightmare,” Amundson said. “What I want to hear from Kilgore is that he supports Roe v. Wade, and I’m not going to hear it.”

“Over the last six years … in the General Assembly we have bill after bill after bill that would restrict access to abortion,” said Del. Vivian Watts, D-Annandale, including “measures that would not allow certain types of birth control.”

Those bills have been “Draconian measures,” said state Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth.

Defeated bills have included requiring anesthesia for a fetus during some abortions, requiring clinics to meet certain cleanliness standards and submitting them to the jurisdiction of the State Corporation Commission.

Others would have made it a crime to provide birth control to a minor who is known to be having sex with someone three years older than the minor.

The Democratic candidate for governor, Lt. Gov. Tim Kaine, thinks Virginia law is just about right when it comes to abortion, Press Secretary Delacey Skinner said. Add in a ban on partial-birth abortion that has an exception for the life and health of the mother, and he’d veto any other changes, she said.

All three female legislators said they aren’t concerned that Kaine is a Roman Catholic who has said he believes that “all life is sacred” and opposes the death penalty.

Kaine has said he would enforce the death penalty over his own opposition because it represents the law of the land.

“That is at the heart of what it means to be pro-choice,” Watts said. “That it is a very serious personal decision.”
Kaine’s position on abortion would leave the decision in the hands of women and their doctors.

The lieutenant governor’s position doesn’t hold water, especially given the pro-choice record of the legislators questioning Kilgore, Murtaugh countered.

“Either they don’t know about” Kaine’s recent moderation on abortion issues, he said, “or they know he doesn’t mean it.”
State Sen. H. Russell Potts, Jr., R-Winchester, an independent candidate for governor, has said he would oppose any reinstatement of a ban on abortion.

But that’s no reason for abortion supporters to jump ship from Kaine, Amundson said.

“I have never voted solely on one issue, and I hope that voters won’t vote solely on one issue,” she said.

Election Day is Nov. 8.