When Florida Gov. Bob Martinez's attempt to write tough new laws restricting abortion failed spectacularly last year, it seemed natural that the abortion issue would be red hot in the Florida governor's race this fall. But it has not.

The Republican govenor said everyone knows his position on the subject, and his Democratic challenger, former senator Lawton Chiles, was reluctant to make abortion a key issue in his campaign.

But that may be changing. Chiles, locked in a tight race against Martinez, hosted a forum with abortion rights activists in Tallahassee this week. Wearing a button that said, "Pro-children, Pro-family, Pro-Choice," Chiles pledged to veto any legislation that would restrict access to abortion.

Chiles personally opposes abortion and in the Senate he voted against additional public funding of abortions. He also voted for a constitutional amendment to ban abortion. More recently, he has said abortion is a matter of choice best left to the woman.

He reaffirmed that position at the forum. "I've always been opposed to abortion," Chiles said. "But when it comes down to who makes that decision, I think we want the woman to be able to make it."

Chiles's earlier ambivalence about making abortion a campaign issue had caused some anguish among abortion rights activists.

Florida was the scene of one of the the first backlashes against antiabortion forces after the 1989 Supreme Court ruling allowing states to restrict abortion. In response to the court ruling, Martinez convened a special session of the Florida legislature. But the lawmakers loudly balked and adjourned without passing any of the governor's antiabortion bills.

Chiles's gathering in Tallahassee was held on the anniversary of Martinez's failed special session.

J.M. "Mac" Stipanovich, Martinez's campaign manager, said, "It's an interesting contrast between the governor's principles on this issue and Lawton Chiles's prostitution of it."