Jewish World Review July 10, 2000 /7 Tamuz, 5760
Striking down laws prohibiting partial-birth abortions by a margin of just 5-4, the court gave Gore the opportunity to declare that "women are just one vote away from losing their right to choose."
Gore was planning to make the power to nominate high court justices a major campaign issue sooner or later, but the Nebraska decision gave him and his allies in the abortion rights movement a chance to start early.
Most polls indicate that Gore is running about even with Texas Gov. George W. Bush among female voters, and abortion could be the lever Gore needs to pry them back into the Democratic column. The Los Angeles Times poll shows that voters have extremely complicated views about abortion but that 68 percent -- including 73 percent of women -- believe "it is a decision that has to be made by a woman and her doctor."
On other fronts last week, the news for Gore continued to be bad. The Gallup poll indicated that Bush's lead over Gore jumped from 4 to 13 percent last month. Both Democrats and Republicans doubted the margin was that big, but they saw no signs that the race is narrowing.
On the stump, Bush had the luxury of reaching out to groups not in the GOP orbit -- African-Americans, Hispanics, the disabled -- while Gore still was playing defense and trying to shore up the Democratic base. According to Gallup, only 63 percent of Democrats want their party to nominate Gore this year, while 25 percent prefer someone else. Among Republicans, 80 percent favor Bush and only 15 percent want someone else.
Gore came up with an energy policy, seemingly, to cope with GOP charges that the Clinton administration's lack of one had caused gasoline prices to rise.
He proposed a $75 billion plan to invest in alternative fuels and clean technology, seemingly, to keep environmentalists from bolting to Green Party nominee Ralph Nader.
At the same time he was coping with the Nader threat, he also had to assure auto workers and holiday drivers that he was not "anti-car," while Bush hammered him with citations from his 1992 book, "Earth in the Balance," calling for higher gasoline prices.
On top of all that, Gore had to punch his message through a fog of new charges that his 1996 fund-raising activities -- and his recollections about them under oath -- merited appointment of an independent counsel. In this stormy environment, the abortion issue opportunity represented a ray of light for Gore. Bush said he regretted the Nebraska decision but is unlikely to make it an important theme of his campaign.
Bush, while anti-abortion, has done his best to signal that he would not try to overturn the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision, declaring that women have a constitutional right to an early-term abortion.
Still, Bush has said that the justices he most admires are anti-Roe conservatives Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, two of the four who voted to uphold state bans on partial-birth abortions.
Gore declared, overstating somewhat, that "the next president will nominate at least three and probably four justices," potentially tipping the balance against abortion rights.
Three justices are over 70 years of age, including two -- Sandra Day O'Connor and John Paul Stevens -- who voted to strike down the Nebraska ban. Chief Justice William Rehnquist, a conservative, is the third septuagenarian.
Court experts say Gore also is overstating when he says that just one vote stands in the way of overturning Roe. It's actually two.
Other key abortion cases have been decided by a margin of 6-3, with Justice Anthony Kennedy voting to maintain abortion rights. Kennedy voted to uphold a ban on partial-birth abortions because he found the procedure "abhorrent."
The Times poll indicated that the public is conflicted about abortion. Fifty-seven percent of voters think that abortion "is murder," yet 85 percent would permit it when the mother's physical health is at stake, 54 percent when her emotional health is threatened.
Support for Roe is down to 43 percent, but it had been as high as 56 percent in 1991, when abortion rights were thought to be in danger.
This election year, nearly a quarter of all voters said that the power to appoint up to three justices would make them focus on abortion in determining their presidential selection.
Clearly, Gore is going to try to mobilize -- that is, scare -- pro-choice women to the polls. Bush might help him if it appears that his vice presidential selection has been dictated by the right-to-life
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