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Abortion, Crime Pack Double Threat in Governor’s Race

Times Political Writer

A combustible mix of two hot issues--abortion and crime--has suddenly engulfed the California governor’s race a full year before the election.

Today, a quickly formed coalition of women’s groups will charge that Republican U.S. Sen. Pete Wilson, now running for governor, is pushing a ballot initiative on crime that could threaten a woman’s right to abortion in California.

Wilson’s aides, who have worked for years to groom his moderate image, are scrambling to control the damage.

And on Tuesday, the state’s district attorneys, convening in Santa Barbara, are expected to blast Democratic Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp, also running for governor, for suddenly raising the abortion issue in relation to the crime initiative. He will attend their meeting.

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Van de Kamp’s aides--who already must fight a Republican allegation that he is soft on crime because he opposes the death penalty--are trying to limit their damage.

And what is striking to political strategists on both sides is that one of the state’s most controversial figures, former California Supreme Court Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird, is hanging over all this--three years after a grass-roots movement got her removed from the court.

The focus of the current fury is the Crime Victims’ Justice Reform Initiative.

If it qualifies for the June, 1990, ballot and is approved by the voters, it would amend the California Constitution in ways directed at the Bird court’s expansion of the rights of the accused.

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The initiative would make it easier, for example, for prosecutors to seek the death penalty; Bird never voted for the death penalty in any decision.

The current political controversy, however, centers on Bird’s interpretation of the privacy clause in the California Constitution. For example, in a 1983 case, People vs. Crowson, she argued that California’s constitutional right to privacy supersedes the less restrictive U.S. constitutional rules on search and seizure.

In the case cited, a man named Earl Bradley Crowson talked about his crime in the back of a police car and his conversation, captured on a police tape recorder in the car, was later used against him.

Under the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment guarantee against unreasonable search and seizure, that conversation would have been permissible as evidence. Bird said it was not permissible under California’s guarantee of privacy.

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So the crime initiative drafted by the district attorneys contains the following language:

“In criminal cases, the right of a defendant to . . . privacy . . . shall be construed by the courts in this state in a manner consistent with the Constitution of the United States.”

But last week, Van de Kamp--whose political base includes a number of groups who backed Bird--announced that he could not support the crime initiative because that same clause aimed at search-and-seizure cases might one day be used to make it a crime to get an abortion in California.

Privacy and Abortion

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His theory is that the privacy provision enshrined in the California Constitution guarantees women an unassailable right to abortion. The U.S Constitution, which the crime initiative would require California to follow, affords no such protection for women. Thus, he maintains, with the privacy shield removed the day could come when the Legislature passes a law criminalizing abortion.

As the positions harden, Wilson is inextricably linked to the crime initiative. Not only is he honorary chairman and fund-raiser, but his gubernatorial campaign’s office is next door to that of the crime initiative campaign.

But Wilson also knows that, according to opinion polls, a majority of California voters are pro-choice on abortion.

And so is he. It is his advisers’ major defense against the Democrats’ charge that Wilson’s strong support for military spending and his backing of conservative judicial appointments make him a right-winger.

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Now, today, Wilson will find himself being attacked at press conferences throughout the state by a coalition of women’s groups that includes Republicans for Choice, the California Women Lawyers and the National Council of Jewish Women, all with members who could potentially be Wilson voters.

Van de Kamp’s problem in this controversy is that his objection to the crime initiative further identifies him with the left at a time when the state has grown more conservative, particularly on the crime issue.

‘Quite a Reach’

Even Los Angeles Dist. Atty. Ira Reiner, who shares Van de Kamp’s West Los Angeles liberal base, thinks the attorney general’s objection to the crime initiative is shaky.

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After considering Van de Kamp’s argument about the potential danger to abortion rights, Reiner said in an interview last week, “That appears to be quite a reach.”

Although Reiner acknowledges that Van de Kamp has raised a legitimate point, he adds that “this initiative does not amend the Constitution as to substantive law, only procedural (relating to search and seizure procedures).”

Former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, Van de Kamp’s opponent for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, recently endorsed the crime initiative but now is asking the state’s top legal scholars whether Van de Kamp or Wilson and Reiner have the strongest position on the privacy issue.


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