CHAMPAIGN — Abortion rights was a central theme in speeches Sunday night by the two Democratic congressional candidates in the new 13th Congressional District.
Greene County State's Attorney Matt Goetten, in perhaps his most complete remarks on the issue so far in the campaign, asserted he favors abortion rights and "would support Planned Parenthood."
In recent weeks, his opponent, Bloomington physician David Gill, has charged that Goetten has avoided making a clear statement on his position on abortion.
Goetten and Gill are the Democratic candidates in the March 20 primary election in the 13th Congressional District that arcs from Champaign-Urbana on the northeast through Decatur, parts of Bloomington-Normal, all of Springfield and down to Collinsville and Edwardsville. It is considered a winnable district for Democrats.
On Sunday night, when addressing about 140 people at the spring dinner of the Champaign County Democratic Party, Goetten said he had committed "to being a good Democrat, but I'm not sure that's what you are doing, David. You're spending your money attacking me on issues that you know to be false. I think, David, that you and I should focus our efforts and our energy on defeating Congressman Tim Johnson in November."
Goetten said he was "here to set the record straight. Doctor Gill, you know that I'm pro-choice. You know that I will support Planned Parenthood if elected to Congress. That's what sets us apart from Republicans. That's why we should win in November.
"I will fight to make sure that everyone's voice is heard in Congress and that we never again see an issue such as we saw recently with the contraceptive debate where five men are sitting at a table when no women are siting here. That's something you and I share in common, David. Tim Johnson won't do that. He hasn't done that and he's not going to do that."
In his remarks, Gill said he had been waiting to hear Goetten's position on abortion rights.
"Years ago I started doing volunteer work for Planned Parenthood and I proudly state that I'm a 100 percent pro-choice candidate," Gill said. "I've also been disgusted by what's been going on with regards to this entire war on women in Washington, D.C., in these last several weeks.
"And I've made my disgust clear throughout the 14 counties of this congressional district. And I've been waiting to hear from my opponent with regards to any of these issues. What I've heard from him and his campaign manager is that he's 'a pro-choice Catholic who always chooses life.' I don't know what to make of that but it sure doesn't sound like 100 percent pro-choice to me, and there are too many women in this country ... who need real Democrats in Washington, D.C., to stand up on their behalf and not be saying things like 'who always chooses life' — qualifiers."
But Goetten, in a brief interview as he was driving away from the hotel where the dinner was held, said "there's absolutely no difference between David Gill's position on (abortion) and my position on that issue. That's why over time I just haven't found it that interesting to talk about. We're the same. We both believe that's a decision left between a patient and her doctor."
As to funding for Planned Parenthood, Goetten said: "I would never agree to cut the funding to Planned Parenthood. That's a very vital function of the federal government to fund that important organization."