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Jewish World Review June 16, 2000 / 13 Sivan, 5760

Roger Simon

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Gore tries to save face -- SCRANTON, Pa. -- It is not easy to move a vice president around the United States. There are dozens of security and logistical concerns.

Highways routes must be planned in advance and blocked off at the appropriate times, rooms must be checked by the Secret Service agents and bomb-sniffing dogs, and filing centers filled with desks, chairs and telephone lines must be set up for the press.

Because all of this takes advance planning, the vice president has a highly experienced "advance" staff to take care of these and many more concerns. The advance people often go to work weeks or even months before the event, checking out locations and making sure things run smoothly.

Here, on the second day of his "Progress and Prosperity Tour," Al Gore was all set to go to Mercy Hospital to announce his "Health Care Trust Fund" which would, according to his press release, "help expand access to affordable coverage to every child and millions of adults."

It was his only event of the day (except for some fat-cat fund-raisers in New York City), and it was an official big deal. The hospital was set, the Secret Service was set, the press was set, the candidate was set.

Just one problem: Mercy Hospital is a Catholic hospital, Bishop James C. Timlin sits on its board, and he didn't want Al Gore anywhere near the place.

Why? Because Al Gore is pro-choice. He believes, as he often says, that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare."

And that, Timlin decided, was unacceptable.

"I won't be dissed! Got it!?"

"It would look like we don't care that much about this issue (if we let Gore speak)," Timlin said. "We consider abortion an unspeakable crime." Gore's appearance would have had nothing to do with abortion. He would not have mentioned the word. He was going to speak about health-care coverage, which the hospital administrators thought was a fine idea.

But the very fact that Gore held certain opinions made the hospital off limits to him. And so, at the very last minute on the evening before he was supposed to show up and speak, the hospital informed Gore he was no longer welcome.

The Gore campaign tried to take it in stride.

"Frankly, we have a different position on choice (than the bishop)," said Gore spokesman Chris Lehane, "but we do have a great deal of respect for the bishop's position and we don't want to do anything that would cause an issue with him."

But what else could he say? The Gore can't afford to offend Catholics. But it created a huge headache for the campaign and assured that in almost every story written, abortion was going to be mentioned.

The bishop said all he did was relay his concerns to the hospital president but did not pressure him. "I was working on a statement as if this was going to go through," Timlin said. "I'm proud of Mercy Hospital for taking this strong pro-life position."

The local pro-life forces were, needless to say, delighted that Gore had to switch locations to a health-care clinic down the road. "This is going to send a strong message to the Gore campaign that they can't use the Catholic Church, and this is exactly what they were doing," said Helen Goshler, president of the Scranton chapter of Pennsylvanians for Human Life.

Lehane tried to put a positive spin on things.

"We are a quick and nimble campaign" he said. "Gore is for choice. Gov. Bush opposes a woman's right to choose. In the long run, this helps us."

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© 2000, Creators Syndicate