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In Speech, Kerry Avoids the 'A' Word

Despite the urging of activists, he skips the issue of abortion at a largely female event.

September 21, 2004|Matea Gold | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Sen. John F. Kerry, who has come under pressure from women's rights activists to step up his appeal to female voters, told a largely female gathering here Monday that the country was on an "unfinished journey" in its pursuit of equality.

But the Democratic presidential candidate did not mention his longtime support for abortion rights, an issue many activists had been urging him to aggressively highlight as polls showed President Bush closing in on Kerry's lead among female voters.

Kerry has said little about abortion on the campaign trail, presumably out of concern for offending swing voters.

However, aides had said the candidate would cite his record on the issue Monday at the Lincoln Center luncheon sponsored by Redbook magazine to honor recipients of its Mothers and Shakers awards for female leaders. Kerry's wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry, was among the honorees.

In his keynote address at the luncheon, the Massachusetts senator bemoaned the state of education, healthcare and other issues.

"I respectfully suggest to all of you that this is the most important election of our lifetime, bar none, because everything is on the line," he said. "Gang violence, it's up. The numbers of kids who are uninsured, it's up. The number of women still struggling to be able to break through the glass ceiling." He accused Bush of neglecting those matters to give the wealthy a tax cut.

"That's what this is about: choices, choices," Kerry added.

He made a vague allusion to reproductive issues, blaming an "ideological rigidity that defies common sense" for preventing doctors in international clinics funded with U.S. aid from telling their patients about their "full panoply of options." Kerry communications director Stephanie Cutter noted that the candidate departed from his written remarks, and she said his failure to mention his abortion rights record did not signify any attempt to avoid the issue.

"He has no problem with this issue," she said.

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