Alexandria Mayor James P. Moran Jr. opened his campaign to unseat Rep. Stan Parris (R-Va.) yesterday by raising the emotionally charged issue of abortion, contending that Parris is "out of step" with Northern Virginia because he opposes abortion rights.

Sounding what aides say will be a major theme of his campaign, Moran devoted his first news conference to what he described as "women's issues." Moran said that Parris has attempted to exploit the issue of abortion politically and now is trying to alter his position because public opinion has shifted.

Moran's emphasis on abortion echoes the political strategy adopted by Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder in last year's gubernatorial campaign. Many political analysts agree that Wilder picked up crucial votes in Northern Virginia by stressing his support for abortion rights. Moran aides say they believe Parris is vulnerable on the abortion issue, and, like Wilder, they will likely focus on the subject in their television ads this fall.

"Northern Virginia has more women in the workplace than any region in the country, and the person who represents the region ought to be identified with women's rights," Moran said. "My opponent, Stanford Parris, obviously disagrees."

Moran and Parris disagree on whether federal funds should be used to provide abortions for poor women; Moran supports the idea, Parris opposes it. They also disagree on whether minors should be required to get a parent's consent before having an abortion; Moran said he has not seen any "parental consent" legislation he could support, while Parris spokesman Mark Strand said Parris generally supports such legislation.

Moran argued that Parris has opposed abortion for cynical political reasons and that he is trying to modify his views because public opinion has shifted. "I don't think {Parris} has any moral conviction on the issue," Moran said. "He has tried to waffle" on the question.

Moran cited an interview Parris gave while he was running unsuccessfully for governor last year, in which Parris said he supported abortion when the life of the mother was threatened, but not in cases of rape or incest. Parris was quoted as saying that abortions under any other circumstances should be "a criminal act" and that the woman "presumably" should be punished with a jail sentence.

Strand said that Parris supports abortion in cases of rape, incest and threat to the life of the mother, but opposes it other instances. Strand also said Parris does not think that a woman who gets an illegal abortion should go to jail.

Strand said Parris "feels he was misquoted" in last year's interview, a tape-recorded question-and-answer session with the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot.

Abortion "was a lot more relevant" to last year's gubernatorial race than to this year's congressional campaign, Strand said. A Supreme Court decision last year allowing states to regulate abortion "shifted the responsibility for deciding who has an abortion."

"If {Moran} is really interested in who can and can't have an abortion, he should run for the state legislature," Strand said. "The congressman has a voting record {on abortion} and it's pretty consistent. The question is, just how radical is {Moran}?"

Parris and Moran are vying to represent Virginia's 8th Congressional District, which includes Alexandria, southern Fairfax County, eastern Prince William County and northern Stafford County. Their campaign is expected to be one of the most vigorously contested in the Washington area.

Parris, a 12-year incumbent, is considered the front-runner, but Moran has raised more than $400,000, one of the biggest treasuries of any House challenger in the country. Both are expected to make extensive use of television advertising, beginning sometime after Labor Day.

In yesterday's news conference, Moran also said he supports a law requiring businesses to provide employees with unpaid "family leave" because "we must make provision for women to have families without having to choose between their families and their careers." Parris's vote earlier this year against family leave legislation, a measure vetoed by President Bush, "was inconsistent with the best interests of Northern Virginia," Moran said.

Strand said Parris voted against the family leave bill because he "opposes mandating a one-size-fits-all policy on businesses . . . . If a business doesn't have someone there, they have to fill that spot. There is significant cost associated with that." Strand said Parris supported an alternative that would have given tax credits to businesses that voluntarily provided family leave.