- The Washington Times - Monday, September 11, 2000

Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman is a staunch supporter of abortion rights now, and even voted against a ban on partial-birth abortion, but Catholic leaders in Connecticut remember another Joe Lieberman.
He called on the state's archbishop with a pro-life pledge 12 years ago, when he was first a candidate for the U.S. Senate, and even told pro-life leaders he would have voted to confirm Judge Robert Bork for the U.S. Supreme Court.
Mr. Lieberman met with Archbishop John F. Whealon of Hartford to seek Catholic votes in the final stretch of his 1988 Democratic bid to oust 18-year Sen. Lowell P. Weicker Jr., a Republican who supported abortion rights, from the U.S. Senate.
"Joe was very liberal, like Weicker, but we had a poll on abortion that showed which way the wind was blowing," says Daniel Cosgrove, then the Democratic town chairman in Branford, Mr. Lieberman's hometown.
The poll showed anti-abortion sentiment outweighed pro-choice views in urban areas throughout Connecticut. "In the Waterbury area, it was more than any, 12,000 [more] against," Mr. Cosgrove says.
Records of a meeting between Mr. Lieberman and top officials of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) two months after the 1988 election quote Mr. Lieberman as saying he "thinks there are too many abortions," and promising he would not "apply a litmus test" against pro-life judicial nominees.
Archbishop Whealon has since died, but his former secretary, Father Thomas Berry, says he remembers the 1988 meeting where Mr. Lieberman "expressed himself as coming from a tradition in support of life, not in favor of abortion on demand."
"He expressed himself against abortion, all suicide, and euthanasia. His position on that definitely was well received by the archbishop and priests," Father Berry says.
A spokesman for Mr. Lieberman says Mr. Cosgrove's memory of the meeting with the archbishop "is not accurate," and says Mr. Lieberman has been consistently pro-choice.
Mr. Cosgrove says he and state Sen. Regina Smith, who conducted the pro-life poll for the archdiocese, arranged for Mr. Lieberman, then the state attorney general, to meet with the Catholic prelate before the election to lay out his support for Catholic pro-life positions, which Mr. Weicker had actively opposed.
The strategy worked, Mr. Cosgrove says. Mr. Lieberman convinced the archbishop he favored pro-life positions and would vote differently than Mr. Weicker, thus winning Catholic support that pushed him to a narrow 10,000-vote victory the only Democratic Senate upset of that year.
With Republican Vice President George Bush outpolling Democrat Michael S. Dukakis by almost 100,000 votes in Connecticut's presidential balloting that year, Mr. Lieberman's strategic appeal for pro-life votes countered the Republican tide that otherwise might have benefited Mr. Weicker, Mr. Cosgrove says.
Mr. Lieberman's winning margin was less than 1 percent of 1.4 million votes.
Mr. Lieberman, an orthodox Jew, has defended his record, saying Jewish law is so deeply divided on the issue of abortion that even among orthodox Jews it may be construed as "a personal matter."
The senator's spokesman, Dan Gerstein, insists there was no meeting between Mr. Lieberman and the archbishop before the 1988 election.
"No one on staff at the time can remember a meeting with Archbishop Whealon during the campaign. He had a private meeting with the archbishop after the election," the spokesman said.
"Mr. Cosgrove's recollection of what was said at the meeting also is not accurate," Mr. Gerstein said. Mr. Lieberman "never said he would limit a woman's right to choose, that he would vote to ban abortion or to overturn Roe v. Wade."
The Supreme Court, in that 1973 case, held that a woman had a constitutional right to an abortion in certain circumstances.
Mr. Lieberman has voted consistently pro-choice, both as a Connecticut state senator and U.S. senator, since his first elective office in 1970, Mr. Gerstein said.
Father Berry, now assigned to St. Mary's Parish in Newington, Conn., says Mr. Lieberman presented himself as a clear pro-life alternative, saying, "He was not an abortion activist as Senator Weicker was … and said his approach would be different."
In fact, Mr. Lieberman's pro-life assurances were so convincing that Archbishop Whealon arranged for the Democratic candidate to meet with Catholic priests throughout the state shortly before the November 1988 balloting.
Mr. Lieberman's expressed pro-life views in those meetings, Father Berry said. "That probably was not insignificant" in the November 1988 election outcome, he said.
Two months after the election, Mr. Lieberman and key staff aides again met with pro-life leaders in Washington and assured them he was an ally, says Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC).
Mr. Lieberman said he would have voted to confirm Judge Bork to the Supreme Court had he been a member of the Senate during the confirmation hearings, according to written minutes of the meeting with Dr. Jack C. Willke, then the NRLC head, and Regina Smith, Connecticut's representative to the group.
Judge Bork, who was eventually denied confirmation, testified in Senate hearings that he would have voted to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Mr. Lieberman "would have voted for Bork, under whom he studied" at Yale University law school, according to the meeting notes taken by Mr. Johnson. The notes quoted Mr. Lieberman as saying: "I'm not going to vote against a judicial nominee just because he's pro-life. I'm not going to apply a litmus test."
Mr. Lieberman acknowledged there was disagreement among his own new Senate staff on the abortion issue, the notes show:
"He thinks there are too many abortions, but many disagree, women will have them anyway. He is unsettled, ambivilent [sic]. Some staff on both sides. Always access to him or top staff, will be heard respectfully. Regina is great. Continue dialog."

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