Thursday, July 27, 2000

GOP abortion stance could set off convention floor fight

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        If any one issue is to disrupt the orderly show of party unity George W. Bush wants at his nominating convention next week in Philadelphia, it will be abortion.

        Nearly one in every three delegates to the Republican National Convention who will walk onto the floor of the First Union Center on Monday has said publicly he or she wants the party to remove the 20-year-old platform plank calling for a constitutional amendment banning abortion.

        But the odds are that the party's platform committee will not do that as it meets in preconvention sessions over the next three days in Philadelphia. That could set up something that has become a rarity in an age of carefully choreographed conventions — a real floor fight.

        “We are going to be heard at the convention,” said Lynn Grefe, national director of the New York-based Republican Pro-Choice Coalition, which has been lobbying for months to persuade the party leadership to drop the strong anti-abortion plank. “It would be foolish to stick with this.”

        The plank was adopted 20 years ago at the Republican convention in Detroit, when the party took a hard turn to the right and nominated Ronald Reagan for


        It is a strong condemnation of abortion — stronger even than the anti-abortion position of this year's GOP presidential nominee, who has made exceptions to his anti-abortion stance for cases of rape and incest.

        But, in the years since, party leaders have been reluctant to be rid of the platform language, fearing they would alienate large groups of conservative, anti-abortion voters who make up a big part of the party's base.

        In June, members of the party's platform committee held a public hearing in Dayton, Ohio, to hear testimony on issues such as Social Security and health-care reform, but shut out proponents and opponents of abortion, who held counter-protests outside the meeting hall.

        Ms. Grefe said that pro-choice Republicans are willing to compromise if the majority of delegates decides to keep the anti-abortion language in the platform.

        “Our second choice would be to insert some language welcoming people of all points of view on this issue to the party,” Ms. Grefe said. “We need something to make it clear that you do not have to be anti-choice to be Republican.”

        Barbara Willke of Cincinnati, one of the founders of the National Right to Life movement, said she would have no objection to such language in the platform.

        “We recognize that Republicans come in all stripes,” said Mrs. Willke, who is not a delegate to this year's convention.

        But the party, Mrs. Willke said, cannot consider abandoning its call for a constitutional amendment banning abortion.

        “The Republican Party was not neutral on slavery: That's why the Republican Party was born,” Mrs. Willke said. “The right of the unborn to life is the freedom issue of this century. You can't walk away from that.”

        But many delegates to the GOP convention, even many who describe themselves as “pro-life,” would like to see the platform plank gone, in hopes that it would end the divide in the party.

        A recent survey of delegates by the Associated Press showed that 31.5 percent of the delegates want the language removed, while 43 percent want to keep it.

        A recent Enquirer survey of Ohio and Kentucky delegates showed that 40 percent of those who responded wanted to drop the anti-abortion plank, while 48 percent wanted to keep it.

        The AP survey showed, however, that there is much stronger support for the anti-abortion plank on the party's platform committee. The survey showed that 43 percent of committee members want to keep the language, while 14 percent want it gone. The AP could not determine the position of the remaining 43 percent of the committee.

        Under the party rules, it would take a majority of delegates in six state delegations to bring the issue to the floor of the convention in Philadelphia on Monday night.

        With hundreds of volunteers and delegation organizers already in Philadelphia — all wearing bright yellow “GOP Pothole Ahead” T-shirts — the Republican Pro-Choice Coalition thinks it is possible to force a floor vote on the matter.

        “We will certainly try if we have to,” Ms. Grefe said. “Because if we lose on this issue, there's a good chance the Republicans will lose in the fall, too. And we're all Republicans here.”


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