James S. Gilmore III, Virginia's Republican candidate for governor, favors requiring teenage girls to get a parent's consent before having an abortion, a spokesman said yesterday, which would be a significant expansion of a new state law that says parents must be notified before their daughter terminates a pregnancy.

"In Virginia, you need parental consent to get a tattoo or a pierced ear," Gilmore spokesman Mark A. Miner said. "This is much more of a medical procedure than those, so Jim would support parental consent for abortion."

The stance by Gilmore, a former state attorney general whose campaign so far has focused on lowering taxes and improving education -- and not on divisive social issues -- surprised even antiabortion activists who have long wanted a parental consent law in Virginia.

With consent, a parent wouldn't just be told about an abortion but would have to give approval.

Democrats, who during the last week have tried to energize female voters in Northern Virginia and other urban areas by blasting Gilmore as an extremist on abortion, were taken aback as well. Just hours before Miner's statement yesterday, Gilmore's Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Donald S. Beyer Jr., held a rally at Arlington Courthouse Plaza during which he promised to fight efforts to further restrict abortion.

Beyer said Gilmore's stand on parental consent is another sign that he is "out of step with Virginia's mainstream."

"We must fight back those who would restrict {abortion rights} little by little by little, and sometimes with dramatic and radical steps," Beyer said. "I have long believed that we should trust the women of Virginia to make this most difficult decision."

Mark J. Rozell, a political scientist at American University, said the timing of Gilmore's stance was curious, given that Democrats are attacking him on the issue.

"This is a very big step for him. Parental notification is a much, much safer position on abortion," said Rozell, noting that Beyer has supported a parental notice plan, though a less restrictive version than what became law.

Rozell, the author of a book about the Christian right in Virginia politics, said the most conservative wing of the Republican Party is suspicious of Gilmore because, in his campaign for attorney general four years ago, he emphasized crime and not social issues.

"Conservatives may have made enough noise to convince him that he has to give them a little something in this campaign," Rozell said.

Abortion rights activists have campaigned against laws that force teenage girls to involve parents in their decisions on whether to have abortions, arguing that such requirements may lead some girls to have unwanted children or put themselves at risk by trying to perform their own abortions.

At yesterday's rally, Beyer was endorsed by Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, who said the nation is experiencing "an assault on freedom to choose that is unprecedented since Roe v. Wade," the 1973 Supreme Court case legalizing abortion. The result, she said, is an emerging "pre-Roe patchwork of laws" that vary state to state.

Parental notification laws are in effect in 14 states, including Virginia and Maryland, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a research group specializing in reproductive health issues. Another 14 states have more restrictive parental consent laws, the group said.

Maryland's parental notice law is among the nation's most liberal, the institute said, because a doctor is not bound by the requirement if he determines that the girl is mature enough to make her own decision.

Virginia's is much more restrictive. Only a judge can bypass the requirement that a doctor notify a parent before performing an abortion on a girl younger than 18.

Abortions were performed last year on 2,100 Virginia residents younger than 18, according to the Virginia Department of Health.

Virginia's parental notice law, which was signed in March by Gov. George Allen (R), passed after an 18-year fight in the legislature. Fiona Givens, communications director of the Virginia Society for Human Life, was pleased by Gilmore's position yesterday.

"That's wonderful news," she said. "I think we have a good chance, if Gilmore becomes governor, of getting consent through the House {of Delegates}. But the Senate would be a hurdle. It would be a long haul."

But Brenda J. Davis, Virginia spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, said Gilmore's stance doesn't take into account the fear -- and in some cases, violence -- that teenage girls can face if forced to involve parents in getting an abortion.

"Parental notice isn't enough for him? If a teen knows she has to get her parent's permission, she's going to be even more scared," Davis said. "When {girls} hear about these kinds of laws, some of them think they can't even go to the doctor. We're asking for a public health nightmare in Virginia."

Next year's legislature is likely to consider several measures to restrict abortions, including a bill that would outlaw the late-term abortion technique that some call "partial-birth" abortion.

Givens said her group also will push a measure known as "informed consent," which would require doctors to tell women about the risks and complications of having an abortion or carrying a baby to term.

Gilmore has said he believes abortions should not be performed after the 12th week of pregnancy, even in cases of rape or incest.

Gilmore's staff said he was not available to elaborate on his position, which his spokesman described while discussing the abortion rights group's endorsement of Beyer.

Miner, Gilmore's spokesman, would not say whether Gilmore, as governor, would pursue a parental consent law -- a move that even the architect of Virginia's parental notice law has said is premature.

Sen. Mark L. Earley (Chesapeake), the GOP candidate for attorney general and the driving force behind the parental notice law during the last legislative session, has said he is open to a parental consent law but will not push it.

"I think we'll need to see how the parental notification bill is working," he said earlier this month. "It may be sufficient where it is. I think if we begin to hear from parents that they want more involvement, we may need to take a look at it."

Other lawmakers said Gilmore is off-base if he believes the General Assembly is ready to demand that teenagers get parental permission before having abortions.

"Oh, my gosh," said Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple (D-Arlington). "I think Jim Gilmore misjudges the legislature if he thinks this is something he can promise and it would be delivered."

Miner said Gilmore's position is merely a reflection of his beliefs.

"Democrats always try labels and scare tactics," Miner said. "Jim Gilmore has his beliefs, and he sticks by them." CAPTION: Donald S. Beyer Jr. called his opponent's stand "out of step." CAPTION: James S. Gilmore III's position surprised even antiabortion activists.