Rookie Legislator's Abortion Vote Jolts Pro-Choice Allies

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In her first vote touching on the abortion issue, pro-choice Assemblywoman Tricia Hunter (R-Bonita) dismayed some of her supporters by joining with conservative Republican colleagues and blocking a resolution seeking more money for family planning.

Hunter said she voted against the resolution when it came up during a special session over the weekend because it was "political grandstanding" by Assembly Democrats who strayed from the announced agenda of emergency earthquake aid.

But a spokesman for the state's Planned Parenthood chapters said Monday that his organization was "disappointed" in Hunter's first abortion-related vote, adding that pro-choice supporters will be watching the rookie legislator closely for signs that she is changing her position.

"People are going to be real concerned about this vote," said David Alois, public information director of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California. "If she isn't willing to vote on a procedural matter that is key to getting the sense of the Legislature across to the governor, I wonder how she is going to be able to handle some of the more difficult votes."

On Saturday, Hunter joined Assembly Republicans in blocking a Democrat-inspired resolution calling on Gov. George Deukmejian to use $6 million in emergency funds to keep family planning clinics open for the rest of the year. Severe budget cuts imposed by Deukmejian have already forced 38 clinics to close. The clinics have drawn fire from the governor and other conservatives for their practice of suggesting abortion as an alternative.

Although the resolution passed with bipartisan support in the Senate, it was blocked by angry Assembly Republicans, including Hunter, who refused to waive the rules so the proposal could be brought on the floor for debate. The Assembly vote was 43 to 31, far short of the two-thirds vote required.

Hunter said Monday that part of the reason for her vote was that she was perturbed that no one discussed the family planning measure with her beforehand. She said she didn't even know the measure was a non-binding resolution, as opposed to a regular bill requiring Deukmejian's signature, until informed during a newspaper interview Monday.

"I came up there with a very heated and wide public knowledge about pro-choice issues," said Hunter, referring to the national media attention given to her pro-choice campaign in the wake of the July U.S. Supreme Court decision giving the states more power to regulate abortion.

"I was never contacted and told that there was going to be anything coming up on the Assembly floor," she said. "We were told we were coming up here for earthquake relief . . . and that was it."

Hunter said she is "absolutely not" switching her pro-choice position, which also embraces a willingness to fund family planning clinics.

Alois said some will doubt Hunter, however.

"I know the people in San Diego who were supportive of abortion rights, who were supporters of family planning, did back her very strongly because of her strong positions on the issue," Alois said. "I think they are going to see this in some respects as backing away from that, now that she is elected.

"I hope that's not the case," he said.

Yet Robin Schneider, executive director of the California Abortion Rights Action Leagues, said she did not consider Hunter's vote on Saturday as a indication that the rookie legislator is changing her pro-choice policy.

"Her vote definitely was not a policy thing, that she disagrees with us on policy," Schneider said. "It's more of a question of how and when it was brought up."

"When the Legislature gets back to the regular session in January and there are attempts to restore family planning budgets and advocates have announced their intention as a united effort, people will be watching closely," Schneider said.

Hunter won a special election in October, the first statewide contest since the controversial Supreme Court decision, to fill a vacancy in the 78th Assembly District created by the June 1 death of Assemblyman Bill Bradley (R-San Marcos).

Her campaign drew the outside support of several pro-choice and women's groups as well as generous donations from the California Nurses Assn. Hunter is a two-term appointee to the state's Board of Registered Nursing.

Hunter will be up for reelection in June to the overwhelmingly Republican Assembly district.

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