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Gilmore Shifts On Spousal Notification

By Spencer S. Hsu and Ellen Nakashima
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 15, 1997; Page A01

RICHMOND, Oct. 14óJames S. Gilmore III, the Republican candidate for Virginia governor, said in an interview broadcast here tonight that a state law requiring a woman to notify her husband before having an abortion is an idea "that would require serious consideration."

Asked why, Gilmore said: "Because a man, a spouse, a husband and a wife are together, and the decisions they make as a family and there should be a lot of interaction and discussion between, and there certainly should be a reasonable notification. But this is, this is something that really is not under public discussion at this time."

But late tonight, Gilmore said that he had reviewed a 1992 U.S. Supreme Court decision declaring spousal notification unconstitutional and that, because it was illegal, he would not support such a bill in Virginia. Before the 5 to 4 decision, 11 states had spousal notification laws.

"I strongly believe that couples should talk to each other about the sensitive issues that occur in their marriages," Gilmore said in a statement. "The Supreme Court . . . has ruled that spousal notification is unconstitutional. Therefore it is not an issue in this campaign, and I would not support any form of spousal notification."

Gilmore declined to answer questions tonight.

In an Oct. 8 interview with WWBT-TV political reporter Jim Babb in Richmond, which was aired earlier today, Gilmore said, "I think a spousal notification bill would be something that we'd, that would require serious consideration. . . . It merits a lot of thought."

Democrats, who have waged a week-long television ad campaign attacking Gilmore as extreme in his antiabortion views, pounced on the statement.

"Jim Gilmore not only wants to bring the government into the bedroom, he wants to bring the government into the marriage," Lt. Gov. Donald S. Beyer Jr., the Democratic candidate for governor, said in a statement released while he was attending a dinner in Northern Virginia.

"His position is an insult to the women of Virginia, because it treats them like children and turns them into second-class citizens," said Beyer, who supports abortion rights.

Abortion rights activists said the statement went further than Gilmore's comment last month in which he said he favors requiring teenage girls to get a parent's consent before having an abortion. That would be a significant extension of state curbs on abortion; currently Virginia requires only that minor girls notify a parent -- but not necessarily receive permission -- before having an abortion.

"Not only does Gilmore's position on spousal notice represent an unacceptable intrusion into an adult woman's decision-making process, it is also unconstitutional and dangerous," said Melissa Mansfield, spokeswoman for the Virginia affiliate of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.

Fiona Givens, spokeswoman for the antiabortion Virginia Society for Human Life, said that she had not heard Gilmore speak on the topic before but that "his stance is very encouraging." She added, however, that spousal notification is a moot issue under current law.

"I don't think it's something that one can even consider, because it's unconstitutional," she said.

Givens pointed out that Gilmore supports new limits that could be legal, such as a ban on certain late-term or "partial birth" abortions and "informed consent" legislation to require that women wait 24 hours between scheduling an abortion and undergoing the procedure.

Gilmore opposes abortion after the first three months of pregnancy and in cases of rape or incest. Beyer opposes new restrictions on abortion.

Political analysts said that Gilmore appears to have little to gain in the final three weeks before the Nov. 4 election by drawing attention to abortion. They said surveys have indicated that the issue drives otherwise undecided voters toward Democrats, who tend to support a woman's right to have an abortion.

Robert S. Denton, a political scientist at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, said he believes Gilmore's remarks could hurt his campaign.

"It is off-message, it is off-text. . . . There's nothing politically to be gained by adding another very complex dimension to an emotional issue such as abortion," Denton said. "It reinforces the perception that somehow he's anti-child and anti-woman, so yes, it's a strategic mistake."

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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