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Eagle-Tribune - Finegold Caught Off Guard on Abortion Bill

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Location: Devens, MA

Eagle-Tribune - Finegold Caught Off Guard on Abortion Bill

By Edward Mason , Staff writer

In the first major debate of the Democratic candidates for the 5th Congressional District, Barry Finegold last night distanced himself from a bill filed by conservative Democrats requiring a woman to wait at least 24 hours before having an abortion.

Finegold, from Andover, was forced to defend his pro-choice credentials after he was challenged by Rep. James Eldridge, D-Acton.

Late in the debate, Eldridge turned to Finegold and asked him why he sponsored the bill, which also requires women to receive information that would help them understand the "devastating psychological consequences" of abortion and be told of other alternatives.

"You claim to be a pro-choice candidate," Eldridge said. "Why are you a co-sponsor of this bill?"

Finegold said he was proud of his pro-choice record and listed a number of initiatives he'd taken in support of women. Immediately after the debate, Finegold confined his remarks to a reporter to reassert his pro-choice position.

However, several minutes later, Finegold distanced himself from the legislation, returning with a press aide and telling The Eagle-Tribune he didn't know how his name got on the bill as a sponsor.

"I'm very surprised my office would allow me to sign onto a bill like that," Finegold said. "I have very deep concerns about it."

The bill is sponsored by some of the Legislature's most conservative Democrats, including Reps. Anthony Verga of Gloucester, Paul Kujawski of Worcester and Angelo Scaccia of Hyde Park.

"I plan on taking my name off the bill. I have to look and see how I became a part of that," Finegold said. "The bottom line is I don't support that bill."

Eldridge didn't deliver the night's only blow at the debate in the Devens Common Center at the former Fort Devens.

Eileen Donoghue, the Lowell city councilor, fired a shot across Niki Tsongas' bow.

Donoghue, who frequently points out Tsongas has never held elective office, challenged Tsongas' record as an appointed member of the city's Tsongas Arena Commission - the arena is named for Tsongas' late husband, U.S. Sen. Paul Tsongas.

In July 2006, Tsongas voted for a lease that cut the American Hockey League team's rent in half. Tsongas defended the vote, saying it was important to strike a deal that would keep a professional hockey team in Lowell.

"That has proven to be an unwise decision," Tsongas said. "At the time, it seemed a very wise decision to retain the hockey team given the needs of the city."

Donoghue, who as city councilor opposed the deal, fired back: "Did you consider the taxpayers when you gave away the store?"

The candidates sparred on the war in Iraq, immigration, health care, job creation, the North American Free Trade Agreement and energy policy.

Four of the five Democrats reiterated their desire to bring American troops home from Iraq. "It's time to bring the troops home," Tsongas said.

Rep. James Miceli, D-Wilmington, said setting a timetable for withdrawing troops "would be utter chaos."

The Democrats agreed the immigration plan currently before Congress is deficient. They also said the North American Free Trade Agreement had not worked out for the United States. But the candidates clashed on health care.

While all of the Democrats want to expand access to health care, Eldridge is the only Democrat who favors universal health care, which he would pay for by eliminating the Bush income tax cut, ending subsidies to oil companies and tacking on a 3 percent payroll tax for employers. Eldridge contends getting employers out of the health care business would save them money while expanding access.

"It's the only way to guarantee health care as a right to every man, woman and child," Eldridge said.

Donoghue said universal health care, while laudable, is not realistic.

"If the political will existed, I'd vote for it. But the political reality is there's no will for that," Donoghue said. "We have to live in the real world."

"I'm not running to accept the political reality of Washington, D.C.," Eldridge responded.

The five Democrats are among eight candidates seeking to succeed Congressman Martin Meehan, who becomes University of Massachusetts Lowell chancellor July 1. The other candidates are Republicans Jim Ogonowski of Dracut, Thomas Tierney of Framingham and independent candidate Patrick Murphy of Lowell.

The debate was sponsored by the Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce.

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