NILES, Ill. — An increasingly militant series of anti-abortion demonstrations aimed at Democratic presidential candidate Michael S. Dukakis turned violent for the first time Tuesday as shouting demonstrators and Dukakis supporters engaged in a shoving match here, partially disrupting Dukakis' speech.
Ignoring the candidate's appeals for calm, roughly a dozen demonstrators shouted "Abortion is murder!" at Dukakis, preventing him from being heard in a crowded Polish union hall in this Chicago suburb. Angry Dukakis supporters responded by shoving demonstrators out the door, sparking a series of fights.
Restates Abortion Stand
Later, Dukakis reiterated his position on abortion, telling reporters, "While I don't favor abortion or think it's a good thing, in the last analysis it's up to a woman in the exercise of her own conscience and religious beliefs to make that decision. We should not brand women as criminals for making that decision. I think that's what most Americans believe."
The protest was part of a "well-coordinated" plan, according to its organizer, Joe Scheidler of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League. The same group helped disrupt a Dukakis appearance in Philadelphia Monday.
Such disruptions pose a potentially serious problem for Dukakis. Any day that the protests themselves become the news, they distract from the carefully scripted campaign message Dukakis is trying to convey--namely, that America needs new economic leadership to meet the challenges of the '90s.
Dukakis' difficulties only grew worse later in the day, when a snap inspection by the Federal Aviation Administration grounded his plane, forcing him to cancel a campaign appearance in the key state of Ohio.
When asked what he thought of the day's events, Dukakis responded that Monday had been "a very good day. Today was interesting."
Scheidler, in a telephone interview, said he supports GOP presidential nominee George Bush but said his group was not coordinating its activities with the Republican Party. On Thursday, he added, he plans to meet with the Republican vice presidential nominee, Sen. Dan Quayle.
Issue Cuts Both Ways
Although the protests clearly are hurting Dukakis now, staff members are confident that they can adjust their security procedures to minimize disruptions in the future. And Democratic pollster Harrison Hickman, who has surveyed voters on the issue, suggested that, over the longer term, the abortion issue could complicate life for both candidates.
Abortion protests could help convince some conservative Democrats that Dukakis is the "liberal" that Bush accuses him of being, Hickman said. That is why pro-choice Democratic candidates, like Dukakis, try to steer away from the abortion issue, even though polls show that a substantial majority of voters reject the ardent right-to-life position that the GOP platform embraces, Hickman said.
But, Hickman added, if the issue becomes more prominent, the GOP's position, which would prevent even victims of rape or incest from obtaining abortions, could turn off many younger independent voters who in the last two presidential elections have voted Republican.
Draws Overflow Crowd
The day began well for Dukakis. Before an overflow crowd at the White Eagle hall here, Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, the area's powerful and popular congressman, introduced the candidate as "one of us." Rostenkowski's district is emblematic of many traditional Democratic strongholds that supported Ronald Reagan and whose allegiance Dukakis must win back to beat Bush.
Then, as the crowd chanted, "We want Mike," Dukakis rose, smiled and said, "You've got him," and then prepared to deliver an address lambasting Bush for being out of touch with average Americans and for blaming America's productivity problems on workers.
"Those Republicans in Washington love to blame American workers first," he said, appropriating a label--"blame America first"--that the GOP used powerfully against Democrats in 1984.
Interrupted by Woman
Before he could begin, however, a pregnant woman holding a baby and accompanied by three other children rose from a front-row seat to begin shouting, "Abortion is murder!"
As the crowd began to chant, "We Want Mike!" to drown her out, Dukakis gestured for quiet. "Ladies," he said, "may I ask this? I respect your right to disagree with me. That's what a democracy is all about. I would hope that you would respect my right to speak."
"Abortion is murder!" came the shouted response.
As Dukakis made several other appeals for order, local organizers of the event began hustling out the demonstrators, who were strategically scattered about the room.
Dukakis, looking somewhat rattled and speaking faster than normal, proceeded with his speech, interrupted at several other occasions by protesters, who were again drowned out--and in several cases pushed out--by the crowd. In all, six or seven demonstrators were expelled from the hall while others--including the pregnant woman and her children--departed on their own.