Posted: Jan. 28, 2003
A WOMAN'S PLACE
By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer
Before John C. Carney Jr. began a speech
Monday evening, he declared he was going to take off his suit jacket
-- which let him show that at 46, he still has the physique of the
football player he was at St. Mark's High School and Dartmouth
It was not a bad way for the Democratic
lieutenant governor to begin.
He was speaking to about 25 members of the
Democratic Women's Club of Delaware, gathered at a restaurant in
Marshallton, with a focus on what interested them.
Not long after the suit jacket came off,
Carney wooed his audience with an appeal about how important it was
to re-elect Ruth Ann Minner, the first-term Democratic governor, to
dispel the myths of whether a woman could do the job.
"This is one tough cookie making difficult
decisions every day," Carney said.
Carney mentioned a number of items on the
governor's watch list, such as state finances and security concerns
after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11. The club members asked
about others, like congestion and a high cancer rate.
Surprisingly, there was not one word about
smoking. Instead, a great deal of the evening was devoted to another
matter that had this particular group feeling nervous.
It was abortion rights. The week before the
club meeting, there was not only the 30th anniversary of the U.S.
Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, but also
notice from Attorney General M. Jane Brady, a three-term Republican,
that the state ought to be enforcing a law requiring a 24-hour lapse
between a woman's consent to an abortion and the procedure.
Brady said the determination was the result of
a belated review of dormant state law in light of recent Supreme
Court rulings. The review is continuing into other aspects of the
Enforcement of the 24-hour wait will be
regulatory in nature, not criminal -- meaning that doctors who
violate the law could face penalties ranging from warnings not to do
it again to suspension or loss of their licenses to practice
State Rep. Melanie L. George, a Bear Democrat
who attended the club meeting, said Brady has set off alarm bells
with those who favor abortion rights because they fear a "slippery
slope" of increasing restrictions.
"There is a coalition of legislators that will
be working together to formulate a strategy to protect a woman's
right to choose in Delaware. I will do whatever it takes to protect
a woman's right to choose in Delaware," George said. "What other
kinds of provisions is the attorney general going to look at
enforcing that force abortions into the back alleys again?"
Brady's own philosophy is that abortion should
be legal but limited. "I don't believe abortion should be available
for sex selection or as a means of birth control, but I believe it
should be an option for women in the first trimester," she said. "I
support parental involvement for minors, except in cases of incest,
and I am vehemently opposed to late-term abortion unless the life of
the mother is at risk."
It is hard to think of something that makes
politicians more uncomfortable than being asked about abortion
rights. "It's the absolute worst issue, because it's so emotional
and religious and moral," Carney said. "As a male, it's a decision
I'll never have to make."
Carney's own view is complex, due in no small
part in his case because he is a practicing Catholic. "That issue is
an issue that is a very personal one. Largely that's the reason I
believe a woman ought to make the decision. My own religious belief
is that life begins at conception, but women ought to be free to
make the decision based on their own belief," he said.
Brady has stirred up what has been little more
than background noise in state politics. Even the Delaware
Republican Party, which contains a dedicated contingent of
anti-abortion rights activists, has steered away from it. Instead,
the party is on record with a "Big Tent" resolution, saying there is
room within it for all views.
The truce probably can be regarded as prudent
politics all around. Jack M. Balkin, a Yale Law School professor,
warned in the New York Times on Sunday that conservatives seeking to
outlaw abortion do so at their peril, because settled law would be
replaced by pitched battle.
He predicted that overturning Roe v. Wade
would shatter the Republican Party, depriving it of libertarians and
suburbanites who gravitate to it because of its stance on low taxes
and a strong national defense and driving moderates and independents
to the Democratic Party.
"Many Republicans hope that President Bush
will soon nominate pro-life justices who will sweep away the right
to abortion and allow the deep religious conviction and moral
revulsion that some Americans feel about abortion to be fully
expressed in politics. They should be careful what they wish for,"
Similarly, if a controversy over abortion
rights usurps the public dialogue in Delaware, it could be an aid to
Minner and the Democrats in 2004, when the governor is up for
By comparison, any other issue would go up in
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