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Saturday, October 28, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Election 2006

Abortion issue has Reichert walking tightrope

Seattle Times staff reporter

Given Rep. Dave Reichert's anti-abortion votes in Congress, Human Life of Washington assumed he would want its endorsement.

But the first-term congressman didn't respond to the group's candidate questionnaire, sending a message with his silence. "If we don't hear back, we assume it is, 'Don't call us; we'll call you,' " said Dan Kennedy, CEO of the anti-abortion group.

The response is typical of Reichert's approach to the abortion issue during his heated re-election campaign. While his opponent, Democrat Darcy Burner, champions her abortion-rights position, Reichert has been as mum as possible.

Last week, the National Right to Life Committee, which has endorsed him, broke the silence with a mailed advertisement applauding Reichert for his votes limiting access to abortions. Abortion-rights ads, mailed by EMILY'S List, the national group that tries to help elect Democratic women to office, have hit the district in support of Burner.

Former Republican Rep. Jennifer Dunn, Reichert's predecessor in the 8th District, also tread lightly around abortion, staking out what she called "a libertarian view" in favor of a woman's right to choose but against federal funding of abortions.

The last time 8th District voters cast ballots about an abortion issue was in 1998, when they faced a statewide initiative to ban late-term abortions. At that time, 58 percent of the district's voters endorsed the abortion-rights position.

By that measure, Reichert is more conservative than his district.

He voted with the National Right to Life 80 percent of the time in his first two years in Congress; Dunn voted with the group 64 percent of the time in her last term.

In the past two years, Reichert has voted to uphold a ban on abortions at overseas military bases, against funding for the United Nations' population-control programs, and for a law that prohibits anyone — including a grandparent or pastor — from taking a child to another state for an abortion without parental permission.

He also supports a pharmacist's right to not fill a prescription for the emergency contraceptive Plan B, an issue now before the state Board of Pharmacy. When asked at a recent debate about the issue, he gave a one-word answer.

But Reichert, who casts himself as a moderate, angered conservatives by voting against the GOP leadership on the Terri Schiavo issue. GOP leaders wanted to stop doctors from removing the brain-damaged Florida woman's feeding tube.

And this year Reichert reversed his opposition to embryonic stem-cell research, which anti-abortion groups oppose.

He says he switched on the stem-cell issue after extensive research. But he sees abortion in all cases except rape, incest or where the mother's life is in danger as "a matter of the heart."

"I think life begins at conception," he said recently. "I think it [abortion] is taking a life. That's the way I look at it."

Burner, who is endorsed by the national abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America, thinks her views hold political advantage.

"It is a pro-choice district, and I represent its views far better than Congressman Reichert," she said. "It's a district that believes that politicians should not get in the middle of important medical decisions between a woman and her doctors."

Kennedy, the Human Life of Washington CEO, disagrees with Burner about 8th District voters. For people who cast ballots just on the abortion issue, anti-abortion voters outnumber abortion-rights voters by at least 2 percentage points, he said.

But the Rev. Joseph Fuiten, one of the state's leading evangelical pastors, said he is having difficulty energizing moral conservatives this election. Part of the "passivity," he said, is because Reichert and Republican U.S. Senate candidate Mike McGavick are not "flag-wavers" for conservative causes such as abortion.

McGavick says he supports the right to an abortion, with certain restrictions.

"I'm hoping we'll get a decent [voter] turnout, but I'm a little worried," Fuiten said. "I don't think there's much momentum out there."

Jonathan Martin: 206-464-2605 or jmartin@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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