To hear Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. tell it, he is a committed defender of a woman's right to an abortion, a congressman who has voted in line with Planned Parenthood as much as 67 percent of the time.

So what was the abortion rights group doing in Maryland last week denouncing his voting record?

"Most of those votes were in favor of contraception," argued Dan Clements, chairman of Maryland's Planned Parenthood Action Fund. "When it comes to issues affecting a woman's right to choose, [Ehrlich] consistently votes to cut it back. He repeatedly says that he's pro-choice when in fact his record proves otherwise."

That is no minor accusation in a state where more than half of voters favor keeping abortion legal and where the Democratic candidate, Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, has received top ratings -- and endorsements -- from abortion rights groups.

As a member of Maryland's executive branch, Townsend has never voted on legislation, but abortion rights advocates say she has actively lobbied the legislature on their behalf.

"I think women should decide what they want to do with their bodies," Townsend said in an interview. "And I believe we should provide funding for women who can't afford to make that decision."

Ehrlich, though, said he views abortion rights through a different prism -- one that places him in a small group of lawmakers who do not vote consistently on one of the nation's most divisive issues.

"I draw basically the same line that the present law draws, meaning that this is a woman's decision," Ehrlich said. That leads him to some votes bucking the Republican Party's anti-abortion plank.

During his tenure in Maryland's General Assembly, he voted to keep abortions legal in the state even if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn its ruling requiring states to do so. Similarly, as a congressman, Ehrlich voted to allow military personnel and their dependents to obtain abortions at overseas base hospitals if they paid for them privately.

He also opposed legislation that would block approval of an abortion pill. And he voted against withholding federal aid to international family planning organizations that perform abortions with other funding sources.

But Ehrlich says he draws the line at paying for abortions with government money and requiring private institutions to provide them. "You can respect the law and understand that it's a woman's choice and at the same time wish and hope for and advocate policies that do not encourage more abortions," he said.

Thus Ehrlich has opposed publicly financing abortions for women in federal prisons. He also voted to prevent the District from paying for the abortions of indigent women. And he has opposed efforts to use federal crime-fighting dollars to protect abortion clinics, and to require hospitals and insurance companies that receive federal funds to offer abortions.

Abortion rights activists argue that such measures are discriminatory. "As far as Ehrlich is concerned, if you're not a woman of means, you're fresh out of luck with regard to your reproductive health," said Nancy Lineman, executive director of Maryland National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, which has given Ehrlich a 45 percent rating.

Ehrlich has raised hackles by repeatedly voting to outlaw a late-term procedure critics call "partial-birth" abortion. And he voted for legislation to make it a crime to cause death or injury to a fetus.

Advocates argue that both measures are thinly veiled attempts to outlaw abortion one step at a time. Ehrlich rejects that analysis. "I believe my voting record is a moderate one, an independent one and one followed by the majority of Marylanders," he said.

Regardless, Ehrlich said he would not push for changing Maryland abortion policies with which he disagrees, such as the state's funding of abortions for indigent women in cases other than rape, incest or saving the mother's life or its permitting of the late-term procedure.

However, he said he would not stand in the way if lawmakers sought changes, particularly regarding the late-term procedure.

That's what worries Clements and other Maryland advocates. Three years ago, Clements noted, a bill to ban the procedure was passed by the state Senate and came three votes short of passing in the House.

"I don't think people realize how tenuous a woman's right to choose is, even in the supposedly liberal state of Maryland," Clements said.

Abortion rights activists are further alarmed by Ehrlich's choice of Michael S. Steele as his running mate, given Steele's longstanding opposition to abortion.

Yet so far, neither Townsend nor abortion rights groups have sought to make the issue a major theme of the campaign.

Political analysts say that makes sense.

For one thing, Ehrlich's record makes it hard to portray him as an extremist. "He's a very fuzzy target on this," said Matthew Crenson, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins University.

Voters also are far more preoccupied with such issues as the economy, education, transportation, gun control and the environment, according to a recent poll by Potomac Survey Research.

"Abortion just isn't on voters' radar right now," said the firm's president, Keith Haller.

Rep. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R-Md.) does not follow the straight party line on abortion.