BOSTON (AP) -- Several of the candidates vying in the Massachusetts U.S. Senate campaign are struggling to define their position on abortion, an issue that also factored prominently in last year's Senate race between Elizabeth Warren and Scott Brown.

U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch, a conservative Democrat, has sought to reconcile his stated anti-abortion position with the more nuanced stance he has taken since entering the contest for John Kerry's former seat. Lynch has emphasized during interviews and in campaign statements that he would not as a U.S. senator vote to make abortion illegal, nor would he confirm any future U.S. Supreme Court nominee who would overturn the court's landmark Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion.

"I don't believe that attacking Roe v. Wade is part of any solution. I think that changes the location of these abortions from a clinical setting to one that is much more dangerous for women in crisis," Lynch says in a video posted on his campaign website. He has also noted his past support for federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

A matter of trust

Lynch's dilemma is clear. The April 30 primary is far more likely to attract core Democratic voters to the polls -- voters who strongly support Sen. Warren and regularly embrace candidates who support abortion rights. Thomas Whalen, a political scientist at Boston University, said this makes Lynch's task of defeating U.S. Rep. Edward Markey all the more challenging.


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"Women's groups are just not going to trust him on this issue," said Whalen, who added that Lynch appears to be "tying himself in rhetorical knots trying to explain his position."

Markey already has won the backing of NARAL Pro-Choice America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, endorsements that also can bring significant financial support.

Ironically, Markey's own position also has evolved during his lengthy political career. He entered Congress in 1976 as an anti-abortion Democrat and once backed a proposed federal constitutional amendment to ban abortion. His position began to shift in the early 1980s, and he currently has a 100 percent rating from Planned Parenthood.

Republicans split

Of the three GOP Senate hopefuls, state Rep. Daniel Winslow, a former legal counsel to Romney, has staked out the strongest abortion rights position, declaring himself "unapologetically pro-choice." Winslow is the only candidate from either major party who has consistently supported abortion rights throughout his career.

Republican Gabriel Gomez, a businessman and former Navy SEAL, has taken a stance similar to that of Democrat Lynch, saying he's opposes abortion per his Catholic faith while insisting he would not seek to change current law.

Only Michael Sullivan, a former U.S. Attorney, has taken a strong anti-abortion position.

None of the three Republicans, however, said during a recent debate that they would back any kind of "litmus test" on abortion for prospective Supreme Court nominees.

"We will definitely encourage our people to vote for (Sullivan) in the Republican primary," said Anne Fox, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Life.