O'Connor's Exit Energizes Va. Abortion Debate
Sunday, July 10, 2005
RICHMOND -- Virginia's candidates for governor are bracing for abortion to emerge as a volatile and perhaps decisive issue as the final months of the 2005 campaign coincide with a national debate over President Bush's choice to replace Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
Senior advisers for the Virginia candidates, along with the state's leading abortion rights activists and abortion opponents, say interest in whether a newly constituted court might overturn the 32-year-old decision legalizing abortion will energize a debate that has faded from prominence in Virginia elections.
Rumors persist that Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, and perhaps even a third justice, could resign soon, giving Bush a chance to reshape the court.
"Clearly, this battle over nominees brings the life issue to the forefront, across the nation but more specifically where we have gubernatorial races," said Victoria Cobb, the executive director of the Family Foundation, which supports restrictions on abortion. The abortion debate is "being taken to the next level, knowing . . . that Roe v. Wade hangs in the balance."
Jatrice Martel Gaiter, the president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, said the abortion issue will now "deeply influence" the Virginia governor's race.
"We are going to enter the battle," she promised. "We will not sit quietly and be run over by men and far-right conservatives who want to determine when and whether a woman should have a child."
A more conservative court could encourage Virginia's lawmakers -- among the nation's most aggressive when it comes to limiting abortion -- to pass more comprehensive restrictions. If the Supreme Court overturned Roe entirely, the issue would likely return to the capital, where legislatures and the new governor could decide whether to make abortions illegal.
Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), the leading antiabortion crusader in the legislature, said he "will not let up" in his efforts to restrict and ultimately outlaw the procedure.
"I certainly would not miss this opportunity," he said.
Activists on both sides said that prospect makes the choice of a governor critical.
Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, the Democratic candidate, supports "reasonable restrictions" on abortion but believes in a woman's right to have one. Republican Jerry W. Kilgore says abortion should be allowed only in cases of rape or incest, or to save a mother's life. Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr. (R-Winchester), who is running for governor as an independent, has been a leading supporter of abortion rights in recent years.
None has responded to letters from Marshall asking whether they would sign or veto legislation outlawing abortion if the Supreme Court overturns Roe .