CAMPAIGN ’98: Gubernatorial Candidates Debate Abortion
California's two leading gubernatorial candidates Friday night squared off on the abortion issue in the first of five planned debates. Gray Davis, the Democratic lieutenant governor, "characterized" state Attorney General Dan Lungren "as right-leaning and out of the mainstream," while Republican nominee Lungren "said Davis was on the opposite side from most Californians on key issues." The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that the "one-hour face off" at the San Diego Convention Center "was highly combative yet civil [as] the nominees staked out sharply contrasting positions" on several issues, one of which was abortion (Ainsworth/Marelius, 8/1). The San Francisco Chronicle reports that "it was the arguments over capital punishment and abortion that injected an emotional punch to the evening."
Lungren, who the Chronicle notes says he "is not one who raises the issue himself," brought up the abortion topic. He "asked Davis specifically where he stood on parental consent for abortions for teenagers, taxpayer-financed abortions for the poor and late-term abortions." Davis replied, "On the core issue, we are at fundamental disagreement. I trust a woman who in concert with ... her own conscience, comes to a personal decision on the most delicate thing involving a woman's health. You (Lungren) don't trust a woman to make that decision and you want the government to make it for her." Davis said he opposed parental notification laws because in some states that have these laws, teenage girls were driven to suicide or illegal abortions "because (they) were actually afraid to consult with their mother." He also said he opposed late-term abortions, with the exception if the woman's health were in danger. But Lungren countered that "the vast majority of people in the state of California support" parental notification laws and bans on taxpayer-funded and late-term abortions. Lungren stated: "And the belief that somehow parents and the family unit are more dangerous to a child than the government or unknown doctor or unknown nurse or unknown counselor strikes at the very essence of the cornerstone of our society, that is the family. The idea that this can be taken from a family member, frankly is abhorrent." But Davis answered Lungren, saying: "A conservative should not hold the view that we should pass a law to change family behavior. In a loving, supportive environment, children will go to an adult for consultation, notice or permission. If a family is dysfunctional, no law on the books is going to make a child do that" (Marinucci, 8/1).
The Sacramento Bee reports that "Lungren was the clear aggressor" in the debate (Smith, 8/1). Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters declared Lungren the clear winner of the debate. "Lungren was so confident, in fact, that he brought up the abortion issue, widely regarded as his most vulnerable position, and challenged Davis on abortion-related side issues" -- parental consent and "partial-birth" abortions -- "points on which he holds the more popular views than Davis" (8/2). The Washington Post reports that the debate "foreshadowed a likely long, close and classic contest between two lifelong politicians who represent their parties' differing ideologies, but who also must appear broad enough to get votes from the large and uncommitted middle that swings elections in California" (Booth, 8/2). Syndicated columnist George Will writes in yesterday's Washington Post that Lungren "is trying to win a state that, since Bush carried it in 1988, has voted only for pro-choice presidential, senatorial and gubernatorial candidates." Will writes: "[Lungren's] candidacy will test the theory that the abortion debate now favors conservatives because most voters understand that abortion will not be banned and most side with conservatives on the three live legislative issues -- banning late-term abortions, banning public funding and requiring parental notification" (8/2).