NJ Governor Flip-Flops on Abortion Rights

June 15, 1999 12:00 am

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TRENTON, NJ — With New Jersey lawmakers poised to enact the first significant restriction on abortion in nearly two decades, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Organization for Women and other abortion rights groups gathered yesterday outside the New Jersey State House to stage their first public demonstration against the measure, The New York Times reported.

At the rally, demonstrators wrote notes to Governor Whitman on rubber sandals, a gesture meant to symbolize her “flip-flop” on the issue. They also accused the Governor of pandering to the right wing in order to help her Senate bid and endangering the health of young women, who might seek illegal abortions rather than notify their parents.

The gathering provided a revealing snapshot of the current status of the abortion debate in New Jersey, a state that once had the most unrestricted abortion laws in the nation, The Times said.

Although abortion opponents have become bolder in pushing the Republican Legislature to pass new restrictions, pro-choice advocates have successfully challenged those restrictions in the courts. They have also depended on the support of Mrs. Whitman, who has built a national reputation as a moderate because of her views on abortion rights and other social issues.

The Governor’s surprising decision to support the measure, and the speed with which legislative leaders secured Mrs. Whitman’s support, has left abortion rights supporters scrambling. Despite today’s rally, they concede they have little chance to stop the measure in the Legislature and hope to challenge its constitutionality in court as a last resort.

“Obviously, if we had known the Governor’s position sooner, we would have mobilized sooner,” said Elizabeth L. Volz, the president of New Jersey NOW.

Ultimately, abortion rights supporters told the Times they believe the notification bill will re-energize their base because it will affect so many people.

Lenora Lapidus, Legal Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, predicted that interest would soon be transformed into renewed political clout.

“We’re clearly underdogs,” Lapidus told the Times. “But once people realize that their rights are being chipped away, they get more involved. I don’t think we have to do anything new. It’s just a matter of doing more.”

Abortion rights supporters told the paper that after the “partial birth” veto, the Governor personally assured them that she opposed parental notification. In fact, they said, the Governor’s about-face on the issue was so startling that when she announced her support for the bill on May 20, they waited a few days before criticizing her too harshly, hoping that she would reconsider.

Within a week, though, Mrs. Whitman sent a staff member to meet with abortion rights supporters and inform them that she would indeed support the bill.

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