Rep. Stan Parris (R-Va.) wrote in a letter in May of last year that he considered the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion "constitutionally improper and morally repulsive," and compared it to the court's 19th-century Dred Scott ruling that upheld slavery.
He also wrote that he supported a constitutional amendment banning abortions except when the mother's life is threatened by the pregnancy, and said he opposed public funding for abortions for poor women.
Parris said yesterday that although he signed the letter, written in the last month of his unsuccessful bid for the GOP nomination for governor, it did not accurately reflect his position at the time and that he must not have read it carefully.
"Some well-meaning, overzealous staff member simply overstated my position," he said when questioned about the letter.
Parris's position on abortion has become an issue in his current reelection campaign to Congress, in which he faces a vigorous challenge from Alexandria Mayor James P. Moran Jr., a Democrat.
Moran previously alleged that Parris has made a politcally expedient change in his position on the issue, strongly opposing abortion when he was appealing to Virginia's conservative Republicans in the governor's race but diluting his views now that he is trying to appeal to more liberal Northern Virginia voters.
Parris said last week that he supports federal funding for abortions for poor women when the pregnancy endangers the mother's life or results from rape or incest. In a newspaper interview in early 1989, Parris said abortion should be legal only when the woman's life is imperiled.
He acknowledged last week that those positions are different, but explained that his position on abortion as a governor dealing with state issues could vary from his stance as a congressman dealing with federal questions.
Parris maintained yesterday that he has not changed his position on abortion since the time the letter was written, but that the letter sent to a constitutent misrepresented his stand. "To the extent those things are inconsistent, I can't explain that," Parris said. "I support federal funding for abortion in cases of rape, incest and threat to the life of the mother, and I did then."
Parris's letter said, "I oppose public funding for abortion" without detailing any exceptions involving the circumstances of the pregnancy.
"I believe an unborn child is a human being from the moment of conception," Parris wrote last year.
Moran charged that the letter is more evidence that Parris has no real convictions about abortion.
"Last year he was trying to capture the extreme ideological right wing of the Republican Party," he said. "The contradiction is even more upsetting than his position."
Parris lost to J. Marshall Coleman in his party's primary race for governor. Many analysts say Democratic Gov. L. Douglas Wilder won the November general election in part because he supported abortion rights, a position that was particularly popular in Northern Virginia.
Parris represents Virginia's 8th Congressional District, which includes Alexandria, southern Fairfax County, eastern Prince William County and northern Stafford County.
Parris said that the letter is correct when it says that he was among more than 100 House members who last year urged the Supreme Court to overturn the decision legalizing abortion, Roe v. Wade.
He said he compared the decision to a 19th-Century Supreme Court ruling upholding slavery because in that case, blacks were treated as property rather than persons. Roe, he said, classifies fetuses as property rather than as persons.
Moran has said there should be no restrictions on abortion during the first six months of pregnancy.
He said Parris's letter is "a total contradiction" of his current abortion position. "It's hard to believe he thought such statements weren't going to come back to haunt him," Moran said.
But Parris said yesterday that, "In my view, I have been totally consistent on this issue."