A voice for GOP feminists in California

A group of southern California Republican women, disappointed by their party's stance on issues such as the Equal Rights Amendment and abortion, have formed a political action group that they hope will become a feminist force in the GOP.

Calling their nonprofit corporation Aurora (the Roman goddess of dawn), its founders say they hope it will provide a new political base in California for those who have felt alienated from both the Republican Party and the more established groups in the women's movement. They are interested, says Aurora's vice-president, Callie J. Heinbaugh of Claremont, Calif., in ''furthering equal participation between women and men in the political, social, and economic processes.''

Mrs. Heinbaugh says the idea behind the new group began when the 1980 Republican Convention took planks supporting the ERA and ''reproductive choice'' out of the party platform. When the ERA expired last August without being ratified, she and a few other Republican women in the Los Angeles area began work toward forming Aurora. It was incorporated in December.

The California Republican convention Jan. 29-30 in Sacramento provided the opportunity to test response to the new organization and its aims. According to Mrs. Heinbaugh, ''we had tremendous reception - mainly from the more moderate section and the young.'' Seventy-five women who attended an Aurora reception at the convention hotel were interested enough to register their names and addresses, and many membership forms were given out, she said.

Barbara Kee, the president of Aurora, is a member of the Los Angeles County Republican Central Committee. She makes it clear that the organization does not seek to be a part of the Republican Party or to play the same role as feminist groups like the National Organization for Women (NOW).

What they hope Aurora can do, both its top leaders say, is provide an alternative for Republican women to feminist organizations with which they may not feel entirely comfortable.

Mrs. Heinbaugh says many Republican women, alienated by the action of the 1980 GOP convention on ERA and abortion rights, ''turned to the Democratic Party , became dropouts, or attempted to find constructive activity in other organizations such as NOW or the National Women's Political Caucus. This loss of talented people from the GOP was a factor in motivating the birth of Aurora.

''Another factor was the discomfort this group of people were feeling,'' says Mrs. Heinbaugh. ''Most of the dropouts were unhappy because they had no place to express their brand of Republicanism, and those who moved into other organizations soon realized that those groups were overwhelmingly Democratic in philosophy, although supposedly nonpartisan.''

The Democrats, Mrs. Heinbaugh argues, ''have given more platforms to women's issues in the party structure. In the Republican Party . . . you're just seeing the emergence of what you would call a feminist faction. We're beginning to stand up and be counted. I'm sure ultraconservative [women] have much greater influence'' in the GOP. ''But I think there is certainly movement. . . . Many women who have felt similar to us have been unwilling, because of peer pressure to some degree, to take a stand.''

Aurora, its two leaders say, will seek to define the so-called feminist issues from the standpoint of Republican philosophy.

''Republicans, by philosophy, believe in noninterference from government in our personal lives,'' Mrs. Kee says. ''As a result, the right to reproductive choice is perfectly in keeping with the Republican philosophy, yet the GOP platform is against pro-choice. It doesn't make sense.''

Mrs. Heinbaugh adds: ''Many who are getting involved in Aurora are not necessarily in agreement all the way with ERA or reproductive choice. So we don't say that if you don't believe in reproductive choice you can't belong to this group. We hope to allow all those who become associated with us to see all the pros and cons on the issue - and make their choice. We are not attempting to control anybody's thinking.''

The aim, she explains, is to make Aurora a ''how to'' institute that will conduct research on issues, establish an ''issues library,'' and conduct seminars on how to be effective candidates, campaign managers, fund-raisers, and campaign staffers.

''The results of this training will hopefully be returned to the communities in the form of political action committees (PACs) to further women's participation in the electoral process.''

The organization's first training session is tentatively scheduled for March in the Los Angeles area. Although Aurora is primarly a Republican women's group, its leaders say party affiliation will not be a requisite for membership or participation in its training seminars. And men can join.

Asked about the possibility of ''going national,'' Mrs. Heinbaugh says: ''We have to crawl before we walk. We will concentrate first on getting organized in California.'' She adds that small groups have been formed in Los Angeles County, the San Francisco Bay area, and Sacramento.

Aurora will be funded, say its leaders, by participant fees. In addition, it will - as a ''nonlobbyist,'' tax-exempt group - seek corporate donations.

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