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CAMPAIGN WATCH : An Absurd Sex-Selection Abortion Flap

It’s hard to imagine the Democratic gubernatorial campaign taking a less helpful turn. The flap over sex-selection abortions, which surfaced during Sunday’s televised debate between Atty. Gen. John K. Van de Kamp and former San Francisco Mayor Dianne Feinstein, is most regrettable.

It might be a valid campaign issue in the People’s Republic of China: They don’t have primaries there but gender-based abortions are common. But not in California, so this controversy reduces a vital social question to hypothetical preposterousness.

It is fair to ask the candidates where they stand on the basic notion of a woman’s right to choose her own reproductive destiny. If the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe vs. Wade and voters in June approve Proposition 115--which, among other things, limits the right to privacy under the state Constitution--the governor’s stand on the issue could become critical. Van de Kamp may have raised the gender-abortion issue to discredit the sincerity of Feinstein’s pro-choice feminism. Not likely to work: Both candidates have a good record on women’s issues.

What is missing from this campaign is a clear sense from either camp of how the candidate would govern the state. Governing means, in part, making hard choices. The closest they have come to that was Feinstein’s apparent suggestion that cost-of-living increases for the aged, blind and disabled might have to put on hold because of the state budget crunch. But Feinstein denies ever having suggested such a heartless position.

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But at least that dropped a dollop of reality into the debate: After all, the state’s $1-billion deficit will not go away unless revenues are raised or expenditures cut (or both). Reducing state aid for the needy is no place to start a get-tough policy. But the candidates must start acknowledging that people in a state that is now 30 million strong and still growing must question some spending assumptions.

For a moment it looked as if one of the candidates were displaying the intestinal fortitude to proffer the kind of controversial but politically courageous suggestion that merited a serious hearing. That moment was fleeting.


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