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Activists Gear Up Faxes and Phones To Rally Support


AMID friendly banter but with serious purpose, about a dozen workers tap names into computers, stuff envelopes, and plot ways to overthrow enemy legislators. The scene: the frenzied third-floor headquarters of a pro-choice group here, where, over the past week, an average of 100 phone calls and $1,700 a day has been pouring in from people wanting to help. Forty miles away, in Pomona, Patricia Massie works from dawn to dusk behind an oak desk in her home. The southern California leader of a anti-abortion group funnels press releases into a fax machine, fields phone calls, and organizes the growing number of people calling in who want to end abortions in California.

As the initial tumult and hyperbole over last week's Supreme Court decision on abortion subsides, the battle is moving into the storefront offices and living rooms of thousands of activists across the US. There, partisans on both sides of the issue are laying the groundwork for a confrontation that will undoubtedly be a dominant factor in American politics in the 1990s.

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Armed with phones, fax machines, voter registration lists, and reinvigorated political will, they plan to rewrite legislation and dislodge lawmakers unsympathetic to their causes in the wake of the court's decision giving states greater leeway in restricting abortions.

Initially, the anti-abortion forces would seem to have the organizational edge. They have been active politically ever since the Supreme Court gave constitutional protection to abortion in 1973, in its Roe v. Wade decision, and have been more inclined to support candidates solely on the basis of their stand on the issue.

Yet the pro-choice camp isn't immobilized. They are banking on outrage - outrage over the court's decision and what it might lead to - to energize what they call the ``silent majority'' of Americans in favor of a woman's right to choose whether to have an abortion.

Pro-choice groups such as the National Abortion Rights Action League, with 300,000 members, and the National Organization for Women, with 200,000, report their ranks have grown dramatically. ``I don't think I've seen this kind of response since the Vietnam war,'' says Sherri O'Dell, a NOW vice-president.

The politics of abortion won't immediately engulf the country. For one thing, fewer than 12 state legislatures are still in session.

Nor is 1989 a big year at the polls. Only two governorships are up - in Virginia and New Jersey, though the issue has already surfaced in both contests - and only a handful of state legislative seats will be decided.

Next year, however, will be a different matter. It already promises to be a critical year in American politics, since Democrats and Republicans are planning to pour millions of dollars into elections in an effort to control state legislatures, which will redraw legislative and congressional districts after the 1990 census.

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Now, with the thunderclaps over abortion, the political atmosphere will be even more charged. Thirty-eight governors will be elected in 1990, while 84 percent of state legislative seats will be up.

``This issue will impact every person running for office,'' says California Pollster Mervin Field.

In fact, a Boston Globe poll taken last week showed that if the Massachusetts Democratic gubernatorial primary were held now, Lt. Gov. Evelyn Murphy, a supporter of abortion rights, would beat Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn, an anti-abortion advocate, and former Attorney General Francis Bellotti, who opposes, but would not ban, abortion.

Anti-abortion advocates will focus first on pushing through laws in states where their forces are strongest: Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Minnesota, Florida, Missouri, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Utah.

The first major test of their power may come in Florida. Gov. Bob Martinez, an ardent abortion foe, will decide this week whether he will add the topic to the agenda of a special legislative session in October or call a separate session to consider abortion-law changes.

Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Illinois may also debate anti-abortion legislation before year's end.

Among the measures likely to be pushed will be the Missouri law upheld last week that forbids abortions in public hospitals. Other restrictions to be put forward: requiring pregnant women to notify their spouses before undergoing an abortion, and giving parents veto power over a minor's ability to have one.

Pro-choice advocates, for their part, will be pushing preemptive bills and ballot initiatives aimed at guaranteeing women a range of reproductive rights, including abortion. They feel most confident about their strength in Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Connecticut, North Carolina, New Mexico, and Washington.

Although California has among the nation's most solid protections against restricting abortion, the fight will be fierce. Both sides are closely watching the recently reconstituted state Supreme Court.

Beyond the courts, both sides are preparing to make their presence felt in the political process. In Pomona, Mrs. Massie, southern vice-president of the California Pro-Life Council, is expanding her file of people who want to take up the anti-abortion cause.

In the California Abortion Rights Action League office in this coastal community, organizers recently ordered lists containing the names of all registered voters in the area. They will use them to identify pro-choice voters.

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