The head of the U.S. Olympic Committee says he doesn't think Salt Lake City's bid for the 1998 Olympic Winter Games will be hurt by Utah's recent abortion controversy.
"I think the key thing is that Salt Lake City, which also had a lot of representative interests, has made a clear commitment to the development of the facilities for America's athletes as part of its bid process," said Harvey Schiller, USOC executive director. "I think that's the most important."The committee wound up its weekend meeting Sunday with renewed support for Salt Lake City's bid for the games despite protests by abortion rights activists.
"Our organization represents all interests in this country," Schiller said. "The decision to endorse Salt Lake City was done in June of 1989. Individuals certainly have a right to voice their particular feelings."
About 50 pro-choice activists demonstrated for an hour Saturday outside the Westin Hotel in downtown Seattle, where the USOC board of directors met. They did not demonstrate Sunday.
A law passed in January by the Utah Legislature and signed by Gov. Norm Bangerter is considered the nation's most restrictive abortion law. In effect, it bans abortions except when a mother's health is in peril, in cases of rape or incest, or if the fetus has grave defects.
"Utah isn't a safe place for women," said Carol Pencke of Seattle, a spokeswoman for the National Abortion Rights Action League. "We want to send a message to the USOC not to use Utah as the site for the 1998 Games because Utah violates the human rights of half the population of the world now."
The International Olympic Committee is scheduled to meet in Birmingham, England, on June 15 to decide which city will be the site for the 1998 Winter Olympics. Other cities in the running are Aosta, Italy; Ostersund, Sweden; Nagano, Japan; and Jaca, Spain.
Schiller said he met with abortion rights representatives during the USOC meetings. Tina Hester, of Prospect, Ky., a representative of Planned Parenthood, was given a credential to be an observer during the meetings, which concluded with a 90-minute session Sunday.
"We've had people on every side of every issue, whether it be social or religious or whatever it is," Schiller said.
USOC President Robert Helmick, a Des Moines, Iowa, lawyer, said his organization has received about 250 telegrams from pro-choice protesters against Salt Lake City's bid. He said his organization expected more telegrams.
"But the IOC meets and makes its decision in two weeks," Helmick said. "So it's really out of the hands of the USOC."
USOC's top brass thinks Salt Lake City has a good chance of landing the 1998 Winter Olympics. Atlanta will stage the 1996 Olympic Summer Games."I think the key thing is that Salt Lake City, which also had a lot of representative interests, has made a clear commitment to the development of the facilities for America's athletes as part of its bid process." "I think their prospects have gone up particularly in the last month. It seems like Salt Lake City is peaking at the right time," Helmick said.
Helmick also said he didn't think IOC members voting on the 1998 Winter Olympics would take the abortion rights protests into consideration.
David Johnson, vice president of the Salt Lake City Bid Committee, agreed.
"We made a decision a long time ago that we would not be influenced by political needs of our city and of our state," he said. "The abortion law is not part of our bid, and it's not part of the facilities that we're offering to the athletes."