Virginia Attorney General Gerald L. Baliles, a Democratic candidate for governor, spoke out strongly today in favor of abortion rights, drawing one of the sharpest contrasts yet with his Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Richard J. Davis.
Baliles, in a news conference where he issued formal positions on abortion and other major issues, said he fully supports a woman's right to choose whether to have an abortion and opposes a controversial move to restrict that right for unmarried women younger than 18.
Davis said last week that he favors restrictions on abortions for minors and is personally opposed to abortions. However, he has said that women 18 and over should have the right to choose an abortion.
Should Baliles win his party's nomination at the convention in Richmond June 7, abortion could become one of the most heatedly debated issues in the the gubernatorial campaign.
Both Republican hopefuls, U.S. Rep. Stan Parris of Fairfax and Richmond attorney Wyatt B. Durrette, hold strong antiabortion views. A plurality of Virginia voters responding to polls last year said they favored abortion rights.
Both Parris and Durrette have said they favor abortion only to protect the life of the mother and would attempt to curtail the current law allowing state funding for abortions in the case of rape, incest and fetal abnormality.
Until now, abortion rights activists have counted both Baliles and Davis as being on their side.
Mary Gill, state director of the Virginia Organization to Keep Abortion Legal, and Bennet Greenberg, executive director of the Virginia Planned Parenthood Affiliates, said they were disappointed in Davis, but pleased by Baliles's stand.
Gill said she was "surprised" by Davis's position, given his prior remarks on abortion rights. "I thought he would uphold his prochoice position."
Donnie Cantwell, chairman of the Moral Majority of Virginia, said he believed Baliles's "unfortunate" statements on abortions for minors "will hurt him with a number of Virginians."
Baliles's statements today followed similar remarks he made during a joint appearance with Davis last week in Virginia Beach.
"I believe in the right of women to receive quality medical care," Baliles said today. He said, as governor, he would have vetoed a bill to restrict the rights of minors to obtain abortions.
The bill died in the final hours of the recently ended General Assembly session, but is expected to be reintroduced next year.
A spokesman for Davis said today that Davis would have signed the bill if he had been governor, but preferred the weaker language adopted by the Senate over the tighter restrictions passed by the House.
The House version would have required a minor under the age of 18 to obtain either the approval of a parent or a juvenile court judge before obtaining an abortion.
The Senate version would only have required a minor to obtain information about the procedure from a second doctor, not connected to the abortion clinic, if she lacked the consent of a parent.
Baliles said that he preferred the Senate version, but "would not have signed either one as governor."
On another major issue, Baliles today said that "traffic jams have become a way of life" in Northern Virginia and other urban areas, and that he would seek new ways to fund and speed up highway construction in the state.
Baliles, for example, said he would consider use of more toll roads and would not rule out a potential increase in the state's gasoline tax.
"I don't think [higher taxes] should be the hallmark of any political campaign," Baliles said.
Baliles said he would support more state money for Metro in Northern Virginia and backed completion of the entire 101-mile Metro subway system.
"Our support for that system should not be questioned," Baliles said.
"The day I take office, I will have my administration begin preparing a comprehensive transportation plan," Baliles's campaign brochure said.
Baliles said as governor he also would establish a new Secretariat of Economic Development to oversee Virginia's vast business interests, as well as a state-run Federal Procurement Agent office that would monitor federal spending and alert state businesses of federal contract opportunities.
Despite federal cutbacks, Baliles said, "the government is still going to be in the market" for goods and services that could be produced in Virginia.