Housewife Is Pushing Tough Initiative : Unlikely Activist Takes Up Anti-Abortion Banner

Times Staff Writer

Susan Sassone once picketed an abortion clinic, but she doesn’t think of herself as an activist.

“I’m basically a housewife,” the Fountain Valley mother said shyly as some of her seven children, dressed alike in brown plaid parochial-school jumpers, trooped through the living room after school last Friday.

Although Sassone prefers anonymity, documents published last week in Sacramento may change that.

On Tuesday, Sassone, 44, received permission from Secretary of State March Fong Eu to begin gathering petitions to put an anti-abortion initiative on the 1986 ballot. Sassone was listed as the sole proponent of the constitutional amendment that would prohibit all state-funded abortions.

If she meets a Jan. 23 deadline, the initiative could be on the ballot for the June, 1986, primary; if she returns petitions by Feb. 21, it could qualify for the November, 1986, ballot.


Sassone’s proposition is the second anti-abortion measure to be circulated in the last two months. It is a simply worded measure that says, in part, “No public money shall be spent directly or indirectly for the killing of innocent human individuals from fertilization until natural death.”

That language would prohibit state-funded abortions in cases of rape, incest or--some critics of Sassone’s initiative insist--even in the event of a pregnancy that endangers the life of the mother.

Further, Caren Daniels-Meade, press secretary for Eu, said the Sassone initiative is much broader than an anti-abortion measure. “Although it’s being called an anti-abortion initiative, it obviously covers other issues, such as pulling the plug,” she said. “They’re not just talking about babies.”

But Sassone and her husband, Santa Ana attorney Robert Sassone, say their initiative is aimed at protecting babies. “We’re basically trying to stop the killing of innocent human life in California, the butchering of the babies,” Susan Sassone said.

And Robert Sassone denied that the initiative would force a woman to continue a life-threatening pregnancy. The initiative’s language would permit termination of an ectopic pregnancy--the development of the fertilized ovum outside the uterus--or surgery on a cancerous uterus, he said. “It’s not an abortion unless it’s with the intent of killing,” he said.

Robert Sassone added that, unlike the other anti-abortion initiative now circulating, his and his wife’s protects all fetuses, including fetuses created by fertilization outside the uterus. The other initiative “would allow experimentation on an in-vitro fetus,” he said.

The other initiative is being circulated by the Sacramento-based Children’s Fund and is aimed at the June, 1986, ballot. That measure--which has been endorsed by 47 state legislators, including 10 from Orange County--bars all state-funded abortions except when the pregnancy endangers a woman’s life.

Renate Penney, one of that initiative’s two proponents, called the Sassone measure “naive” for seeking to outlaw abortions when a woman’s life is in danger.

The Sassones could have difficulty gaining signatures, Penney said, because “with so many petitions in circulation already, I think what they’re going to run up against is people saying, ‘I’ve already signed it.’ ”

The Sassones disagree. “We won’t have any trouble getting signatures,” Robert Sassone said. Those who have signed the first petition will be so strongly opposed to abortion that they will quickly sign another, more stringent one, he said.

Susan Sassone said they do not expect to have to campaign hard for their initiative other than make an occasional radio appearance or maybe “do some picketing,” she said.

She serves on the board of a Sacramento-based anti-abortion group, the American Life League, and that group has agreed to mail 130,000 petitions to churches and right-to-life groups around the state, the Sassones said. Volunteers will gather the required 630,136 signatures, Robert Sassone said.

Susan Sassone said she is confident that many Californians share her views on abortion. “As a mother, I know what a baby is like,” she said. “And I know unborn babies feel pain.”