Mike Ross Shifts On Abortion As Campaign Begins for Arkansas Governor

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Friday, Apr. 26, 2013 4:06 pm  

Announcing his run for governor this month, Mike Ross criticized Arkansas legislators for adopting a 20-week abortion ban.

LITTLE ROCK - As one of the most conservative Democrats in Congress, former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross of Arkansas received a perfect score from abortion opponents for his votes last year. Abortion rights supporters gave him a "0."

Now that he's running for governor, Ross is portraying himself as a defender of abortion rights and criticizing state legislators who passed an abortion ban nearly identical to one he supported in Washington - and reminding voters ahead of a heated primary that he's in the race as a Democrat.

"He's got to send some important signals to the party base that he's one of them," said Jay Barth, a political science professor at Hendrix College who has been active with the Democratic Party.

While a member of Congress last year, Ross was one of 17 Democrats who backed a bill that would have halted most abortions in Washington, D.C., after 20 weeks of pregnancy, even those resulting from rape or incest. Announcing his run for governor this month, Ross criticized Arkansas legislators for adopting a nearly identical 20-week ban, one that included exemptions for rape and incest that the D.C. ban didn't.

Ross said Gov. Mike Beebe was right to veto that bill and another one stopping most abortions in the 12th week of pregnancy and beyond. The bills became law on two overrides.

"These were clearly nothing more than attacks on women," Ross said after announcing. "These were bills to give partisan legislators ammunition to use in their next campaign that in litigation is going to cost the state tens of millions of dollars. That's tens of millions of dollars they could be spending on education and economic development."

Ross' change was not a surprise to the head of the Arkansas Right to Life group. Two terms ago, Ross received only a 50 percent rating from National Right to Life and the term before that, he had a "0."

"He wasn't somebody we could always count on," said Rose Mimms, executive director of Arkansas Right to Life. "I had hoped that maybe he had a change of heart, but apparently he hasn't."

Douglas Johnson, the legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee, is more direct, calling the ex-congressman "hypocritical and duplicitous" for supporting a ban in Congress but not at the state level.

Ross says he's neither. Circumstances are different, he says, as are the roles of a governor and a member of the U.S. House.

"I was representing the views of my district, which is what a congressman does," Ross told The Associated Press. "What a governor does is a lot different. A governor is the leader of the state and is making decisions based on his values, his morals, his life experiences and his heart."

Ross' rival for the Democratic nomination, former Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, has said the ex-congressman is trying to mislead voters on his past anti-abortion votes.



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