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EILEEN MCNAMARA

Playing dodge on abortion

Come out, come out, wherever you are, governor.

We understand that you are in ''a different place" on the abortion issue, but we are having a heck of a time locating it and you. It is time to stop playing hide-and-seek with women's constitutional rights and show yourself.

You may support Roe v. Wade. You may oppose it. You may even personally oppose it while you publicly support it, because, like it or not, the landmark 1973 US Supreme Court decision is the law of the land. The electorate appreciates nuance as much as it demands clarity. What you may no longer do is play ''now you see me, now you don't" with abortion rights.

Michael Murphy took care of that when, in a moment of uncharacteristic candor for a political strategist, he told the National Review what the people of Massachusetts already suspected about their governor: ''He's been a prolife Mormon faking it as a prochoice friendly."

Never mind the dissembling that followed. Political consultants of every ideological stripe always say their comments were taken out of context when the truth slips out. Murphy got it right the first time, maybe even intentionally. The notion that you snookered Massachusetts liberals to win the corner office will probably play well in South Carolina, if, as seems increasingly likely, you skip a 2006 reelection campaign to run for president in 2008.

''While I've said time and again that I oppose abortion, I've also indicated that I would not change in any way the abortion laws of Massachusetts, and I've honored my promises," you said on Friday, clarifying nothing since your recent interview with USA Today in which you professed to be ''in a different place than I probably was in 1994, when I ran against Ted Kennedy."

This is what you, not your advisers, said during that campaign: ''I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country. I have since the time that my mom took that position when she ran in 1970 as a US Senate candidate. I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years we should sustain it and support it."

What do you believe now? If, as you told USA Today, ''over time, one's perspective changes somewhat," why not share that process with us? Why invite suspicion that the evolution of your thinking is related to the next election cycle?

Your personal opposition to abortion has never been an issue, anymore than Kennedy's position has been. And, your ability to alter state abortion policies -- as a Republican governor in a state with a Democratic Legislature and a constitution that affords even greater privacy protections than the federal charter -- was nonexistent to begin with.

What is at issue is your commitment to protecting a woman's right to make decisions about her reproductive health without government interference, your personal beliefs notwithstanding. Voters should not tolerate ambiguity on this question. There was nothing ambiguous about the 10,000 women who died at the hands of back alley butchers every year before Roe v. Wade put an end to the slaughter.

The abortion question, divisive though it remains, is not a strategic one. It is a medical one. Your equivocation for political gain mocks the memory of every desperate woman who died at the hands of an illegal abortionist.

Your refusal to discuss your thinking on reproductive health issues is especially arrogant when legislation is pending in Massachusetts on emergency contraception that opponents consistently mischaracterize as an abortion pill. Will you make good on the commitment you made in 2002 to broaden access to the morning-after pill?

You may have one foot out the door, but you are still the governor of Massachusetts. If your thinking has changed, you owe us a substantive conversation about the nature and the cause of that change. Certainly, you owe us more than scripted statements, accompanied by a robotic refusal to elaborate.

Eileen McNamara is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at mcnamara@globe.com.

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