Abortion and Gender Frame Governor Race


The 1990 primary race for governor neared its close Sunday with two intertwined and dominating issues--gender and abortion rights--framing the tussle between Democrats John K. Van de Kamp and Dianne Feinstein.

Van de Kamp flanked himself Sunday with two living symbols of women’s rights, and pledged anew that he would veto any attempt to curtail the right to an abortion.

Norma McCorvey, the “Jane Roe” in the Supreme Court’s historic Roe vs. Wade decision that legalized abortion, endorsed the attorney general as they stood on the threshold of the Los Angeles County courthouse.

Said Van de Kamp: “In reaching for the women’s vote, my opponent has attempted to cast doubt on my commitment to freedown of choice. Now, she has a right to her opinion . . . but her opinion is dead wrong.”


Earlier in the day, during a tour of South Los Angeles churches, Van de Kamp was accompanied by Lillian Garland, a West Los Angeles receptionist who in 1987, with the assistance of Van de Kamp’s office, won a U.S. Supreme Court decision guaranteeing job protection for women who take maternity leave.

But Van de Kamp also found himself batting down questions of whether his Saturday description of Feinstein’s campaign as “hysterical” was a loaded term meant to remind voters of her gender.

Feinstein, asked about Van de Kamp’s remark as she arrived at a fund-raiser at Los Angeles’ chic Spago restaurant, called the description “sexist.”

“I think that’s clear,” she said. “I don’t think anybody has ever seen me hysterical ever. I think it’s maybe a little desperation of last-minute campaigning.”


Van de Kamp denied that the description--made as he lashed out at Feinstein’s campaign advertising--was intended to signal his opponent’s gender.

“Baloney,” he said. “Men can’t be hysterical? I know a lot of men have been hysterical. That is a genderless kind of word by all accounts. Period.”

The dust-up over terminology underscored what has been a continuing battle between the two Democratic candidates in the long months of the campaign that culminates in Tuesday’s primary election. In a year when women appear to be more politically energized than ever before and are 53% of California’s registered voters, which candidate can command their loyalty?

To further their chances, each has lined up support from women politicians and sought the endorsements of others, like McCorvey, who personify the political struggles of women.


McCorvey on Sunday said her decision to endorse Van de Kamp was made after considering a number of unspecified issues, as well as abortion rights. “I really don’t dislike Mrs. Feinstein at all,” she said. “It’s just that I think John would be the best person for the governorship.”

For Feinstein, gender has been the most obvious and, according to polls, the most successful of her appeals, and she made the most of it again Sunday.

Talking to scores of supporters during the Spago reception, she linked her gender to her level of support for abortion rights. She was introduced by Assembly Speaker Willie Brown (D-San Francisco), a political ally of nearly 30 years who also touted her abortion rights platform.

“A woman is best protected by another woman . . . who would veto any legislation that interferes with that right,” Feinstein said, to ringing applause by well-wishers snacking on miniature pizzas.


The former San Francisco mayor also stretched beyond Tuesday’s crucial primary to November, laying out her plans if elected in a contest with the soon-to-be Republican nominee, Sen. Pete Wilson. She pledged that in the first 100 days of her tenure she would sign a mandatory health insurance plan for working Californians and vowed to bring to the negotiating table the forces warring over insurance coverage.

She underscored her support of the death penalty, saying, “There’s got to be a penalty people respect.”

“It’s time in the state of California to begin to protect the victims,” she said, lumping together victims of crime, poverty and neglect. “What we want to do in this campaign is sound a new note of values.”

Van de Kamp, along with emphasizing his support of women, said he meant to be a champion of the aged, blind and disabled.


“They need a champion in the halls of power--and I aim to be that champion,” he declared at several of his church stops.

Van de Kamp also made an unspoken appeal to those attracted to Feinstein’s announced plan to appoint women and minorities to the bulk of the state’s appointive jobs, in keeping with their percentage of the state’s population.

“When I’m governor of this state, I want you to know there will be a rainbow of hands on the levers of power,” Van de Kamp told churchgoers at Paradise Baptist Church.

Van de Kamp arrayed a show of political power beside him at the morning’s campaign stops. He was accompanied by Rep. Julian C. Dixon (D-Los Angeles), Los Angeles school board member Rita Walters, and Inglewood Councilman Daniel Tabor, among others.


He sidestepped a little political mess at two of the churches he attended. At Praises of Zion Church, Pastor J. Benjamin Hardwick pointedly told Van de Kamp he was “greatly concerned” about the imposition of the death penalty. The pastor added that he considers abortion “legalized sin.”

Van de Kamp, who personally opposes abortion and the death penalty but says he would enforce existing laws allowing them, let the remark pass. He also ignored an introduction at the First A.M.E. Church in which speaker Kerman Maddox described Van de Kamp as “the only Democrat against the death penalty.”

The attorney general won thundering applause at some of the stops, and audiences particularly seemed to approve of his role in the banning of automatic weapons in California.

Van de Kamp and Feinstein will formally end their campaigns today by flying around the state for rallies, and go to the polls in their respective hometowns of Pasadena and San Francisco early Tuesday. Then there will be little to do but wait.



A dazed Howard Rosenberg looks at TV campaign. F1