Abortion Rights Group in GOP May Oppose Dornan : Politics: Former O.C. Superior Court Judge Judith M. Ryan is planning to challenge the 7-term congressman.


Republican women who advocate abortion rights are organizing a nationwide fund-raising network to back GOP women candidates and might test their strength against one of Orange County’s veteran congressmen.

The group, which plans to meet in Washington tonight with Sen. Nancy Landon Kassebaum (R-Kan.) and six Republican congresswomen, has raised more than $100,000 in six weeks, said founder Glenda Greenwald, publisher of a woman’s magazine based in Michigan.

Noting that the 435-member House of Representatives has just 24 women members and that the 100-member Senate has just two, Greenwald said: “The numbers are appalling. American women are underrepresented in a very big way.”

Named WISH List--an acronym for Women in the Senate and House--the group is eyeing an opportunity in Orange County, where former Superior Court Judge Judith M. Ryan is planning to challenge Rep. Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) in the June 2 Republican primary.

Ryan said Wednesday that she is planning to file the paperwork to become a candidate in the 46th Congressional District by Friday’s deadline. She also said she hopes to be supported by WISH but added that her interest in federal office is independent of the group’s encouragement.


“After talking to these people, I think I can make a difference,” she said. “I think I have the qualifications.”

WISH is also an advocate for abortion rights, an issue that separates Ryan and Dornan, who has been in Congress for seven terms.

“Our main thrust,” Greenwald said, “is women in office; our second thrust is Republican women in office, and our third is the criteria for pro-choice. We would not support someone who is pro-life.”

Pro-choice is a term often used by advocates of abortion rights to describe themselves; opponents of abortion rights often call themselves pro-life.

Dornan, who opposes abortion rights, said he considers the issue the only one that would lead a fellow Republican candidate to challenge him in the primary.

“In spite of the beautiful Irish name,” Dornan said about Ryan in an interview, “I assume she’s pro-abortion, because that’s the only type of Republican that would declare against me. I would say to her, ‘Happy St. Patrick’s Day, study your roots and keep the faith.’ ”

Eileen Padberg, a Republican political consultant from Orange County and a leader in WISH, said the group has not chosen the races that it will target, but it is considering Ryan’s primary challenge.

“It’s not involved at all, but hopefully it will be,” Padberg said about WISH. “I think she (Ryan) is a great candidate.”

Dornan, 58, is one of the most prolific fund-raisers in Congress and said he has never been challenged by a Republican in his seven campaigns. He has also established a national network of support in the party’s conservative wing that could be called in to help, and he would expect backing from the White House, since he has served loyally as a liaison between President Bush and GOP conservatives.

Padberg said WISH could help Ryan in her fund raising. “It will be a campaign arm for the candidate,” she said.

Ryan, 48, was appointed to Orange County Municipal Court in 1981 by former California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown Jr. After a year, she was promoted to the Superior Court, where she served until 1989. She now works as an arbitrator.

Ryan lives in Yorba Linda, which is not in the district. There is no requirement that congressional candidates live in their districts, and Ryan said she does not plan to move.

WISH is patterned after a Democratic abortion rights donor network founded in 1985 called EMILY’s List, an acronym for Early Money Is Like Yeast--"it makes the dough rise.”

In 1990 alone, EMILY’s List raised $1.5 million for 14 women candidates, and Greenwald credits it with helping to increase the number of Democratic House members in four years from 12 to 20, while Republicans dropped from 12 to nine.

Victoria Toensing, a WISH List member, contended that GOP fund-raising for women candidates who advocate abortion rights should not be seen as a rebellion against President Bush, who opposes abortion, or against the Republican Party, which has a platform plank against abortion.

The GOP “is a big tent, and this is a very positive movement,” said Toensing, a former deputy assistant attorney general and chief counsel of the Senate Intelligence Committee who is now in private practice in Washington for a Los Angeles law firm.

Both parties have members who oppose and members who favor abortion rights, “and the electorate ought to realize that,” Toensing said.

Predicting that the Roe vs. Wade Supreme Court decision on abortion rights “is not going to be good constitutional law much longer,” Toensing said the issue of choice is headed for Congress.

“The Legislature is where the action is, and we’re here to get Republican women who are pro-choice elected to Congress,” she said.

Ostrow reported from Washington and Lesher from Orange County.

PRELUDE TO COURT RULING: Debate begins in Congress on abortion rights bill. A12