Women's political organizations are quick to list the number of female candidates they are supporting this year, but there is one woman who hasn't made any of the lists: Joan Finney (D), running for governor of Kansas. Finney has learned that being a woman does not guarantee political support from women's groups.
Shortly after Finney's surprise victory in the Sept. 11 Democratic primary, the National Organization for Women (NOW) endorsed Kansas Gov. Mike Hayden (R) because Finney opposes abortion and Hayden had switched to an abortion-rights position.
"I believe it is most unfortunate that this powerful, national organization has chosen to ignore the many powerful problems that women face in our society today and then turn to this one controversial issue and make a political football of it," Finney said at the time.
Over the last month, Finney's lead plummeted as women voters shifted to Hayden. She trailed by 5 percentage points in a poll reported this week.
"Our mission is to increase the number of women in office, but women who support our agenda," said Sharon Rodine, president of the National Women's Political Caucus. "We're not about putting them in office because they look like us, but because they act like us."
The bipartisan caucus endorses only candidates who support the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), child care and abortion rights. "These have been our bottom-line issues since we were formed 20 years ago," Rodine said.
NOW President Molly Yard called abortion rights, the ERA and civil rights NOW's "rock bottom" criteria from which "we don't deviate."
Yard said NOW can support someone who is "weak" on its issues, citing Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder (D), who favored parental consent on abortion, "but only because he was so much better than his opponent," Republican Marshall Coleman.
Asked if she thought NOW's endorsement policy unfairly excluded some progressive female candidates, Yard said, "We think it is a contradiction in terms to say you are a feminist and not support all three" of NOW's top issues.
"I can't think of any women's political organization that isn't pro-choice," said Jane Danowitz, director of the bipartisan Women's Political Campaign Fund. "We're all about electing pro-choice candidates."
But Nancy Myers of the National Right to Life Committee said, "These groups promote the false premise that all women active on the abortion issue are pro-abortion." Myers argued that polls show that women who base their votes on abortion "are more likely to vote single issue pro-life than in favor of abortion."
Linda Dorian, president of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women's Clubs (BPW), said, "We have had a pro-choice plank in our platform for 10 years." However, before the Supreme Court's 1989 Webster decision allowing states to restrict abortions, the BPW endorsed an antiabortion candidate, Rep. Mary Rose Oakar (D-Ohio).
"I am very doubtful we would endorse an anti-choice candidate now," Dorian said. "We have an economic equity agenda. We will never get to a full participation in the work force if we can't have control over our reproductive life."
Finney's candidacy, in the view of some, hurts that agenda.
Ellen Malcolm, president of Emily's List, a fund-raising organization for female Democratic congressional and gubernatorial candidates, said "women are furious with Finney." Nevertheless, she said, "Having any woman in high places is a victory. We would prefer she'd be pro-choice." She added Finney is "unusual" in that she is antiabortion.
Lynn Cutler, a vice chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said, "I understand that a woman who is not pro-choice becomes a difficult kind of symbol for groups who care about choice."
Cutler compared abortion and women's groups to the right to work issue and organized labor. "You can't fudge on this issue," she said.