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BILL ALBRECHT Austin Pro-Choice Rally Pro-Choice Posturing Austin WITH ANY luck, Ann Richards’s recent comparison of the abortion issue to the Berlin wall will prove to be more than campaign rhetoric. Richards, who received a warmer welcome at a November pro-choice rally than her gubernatorial opponent Jim Mattox, or for that matter Hollywood celebrity Cybill Shepherd, made the iron-curtain comparison to her cheering supporters. “In East Germany, they are standing up for their rights,” Richards said at the rally. “We are not going to stand idly by and watch the construction of a wall between us and our freedom.” The policies behind the iron curtain are shifting as rapidly as pro-choice politics at home. The abortion issue is emerging as such a pivotal issue in Texas, that at the very least neither Richards nor Mattox could afford to miss the pro-choice rally, although former governor Mark White didn’t show. One estimate put the crowd size at 20,000. “I would think a Democratic candidate who didn’t attend this event would be noticed,” said state Senator Hugh Parmer, a speaker at the rally who plans to use the abortion issue in his bid to unseat U.S. Senator Phil Gramm. Parmer, like Virginia Governor-elect Douglas Wilder, seems inclined to frame the pro-choice position in the context of traditional values: “Texans may live without rights from time to time. But once we get these rights, we’re never giving them up.” . Wilder has said much of his victory was a result of his ability to capture middle-ofthe-road voters, who in recent years have backed Republican presidential candidates. Parmer is already reminding voters that Gramm is out of touch with the mainstream. “The man has an extreme right-wing point of view,” Parmer said. Richards appears eager to suggest the same of Mattox. The attorney general has left no doubt that he is committed to the protection of women’s rights to choice as defined by the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. And he repeated that position to the crowd at the rally. But Richards considers the issue more hers than the attorney general’s. Recently she tried to place Mattox in the same camp as the top three Republican gubernatorial candidates. In a Richards campaign mailing, Mattox is listed among “The Opposition” to the prochoice movement, along with Clayton Williams, Kent Hance,’ and Jack Rains. Mattox is quoted on the abortion issue, and his statement attributed to the Bryan-College Station Eagle suggests he would sell out prochoice forces. The Richards’s campaign neglected to include from the quote a line in which Mattox said he is “strongly in favor of a woman’s right to choose.” This kind of campaign tactic suggests how crucial the abortion issue has become. Richards clearly wants to claim it as her exclusive property. At the rally, she spoke indignantly and accurately of a maledominated Legislature that both doesn’t understand reproductive rights and is grossly insensitive to the concerns of women. “It is wrong for legislators and governors to make a decision about your body when they don’t even understand it. We want to say `give me a break, stupid.’ ” The U.S. Supreme Court’s Webster decision, allowing states to place greater restrictions on abortions, has provided the Richards campaign with a tailor-made campaign issue. And Richards is using it, demonstrating that her one-line zingers can attract attention to her own position. “I told Bill Hobby that if I had to tell one more legislator that a tubular pregnancy is not a test tube baby, I’m going to blow my brains out,” she said at the rally. And she speaks from an experience no male candidate in the campaign can claim. No matter how persistent Jim Mattox is in both rhetoric and deeds, it seems he will have to concede the issue to Richards, whose platform, embracing what might be described as a feministpopulism, automatically puts her out front on abortion. Former Governor Mark White, who is putting together a campaign organization, is pro-choice, and it is uncertain if his absence at the rally will come back to haunt him. White has left an opening for both Mattox and Richards to criticize his commitment to abortion rights. But with two candidates and a likely third supporting a woman’s right to choice, a disagreement over abortion among the Democrats would be more a matter of bickering than battling about ideology. The most obvious factor that separates the candidates on the issue is gender, and Richards could continue to use her one-liner lingo of feminist empowerment to chip away at her opponents. The campaign has yet to swing into full gear, fundamental issues still haven’t been defined, and it remains to be seen how much Richards will benefit from her pro-choice views. Her campaign does suggest that a woman candidate . has more to gain than a male candidate from the Webster decision. In a decade of limited expansion for women in politics, a Richards victory achieved, in part by the candidate’s pro-choice politics, would be good news for women candidates. The goal of an electorate motivated by gender rather than ideological, economic, racial, or regional loyalties has long been unattainable. Right to abortion presents Richards and a revitalized women’s movement aimed at electing candidates with a compelling issue that can be easily used to cement political loyalties based on gender. Wilder, the first black ever elected governor in the United States, showed how the issue can be used to transcend the issue of race. Depending on how she plays it, Ann Richards could show how to use the issue to increase representation of women in government. A.F. THE TEXAS OBSERVER 5