The plank, or we walk

National | Pro-lifers warn GOP: No wavering on platform language

Issue: "Dole: Looking for a VP," May 25, 1996

No deletions. No changes. Or no deal. That's what a broad coalition of 12 pro-life leaders said on May 14 as they released a "statement of solidarity" in support of readopting at the San Diego convention the same pro-life plank that the Republican Party ran on in 1984, 1988, and 1992.

"It must be adopted in 1996 without any change or deletion," the statement, which ran in the May 15 issue of the Washington Times newspaper, said. "There has been considerable media comment about proposals to change this language. Such comments show that any change or deletion would be interpreted as a retreat from the Republican Party's principled position."

The statement was signed by: Gary Bauer (Family Research Council); Judie Brown (American Life League); Charles Colson (Prison Fellowship); James Dobson (Focus on the Family); D. James Kennedy (Coral Ridge Ministries); Beverly LaHaye, (Concerned Women for America); Richard Land (Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission); Richard John Neuhaus (First Things); Adrian Rodgers (Bellevue Baptist Church); Phyllis Schlafly (Republican National Coalition for Life); Paul Weyrich (Free Congress Foundation); and J.C. Willke (Life Issues Institute). The statement couldn't have come at a better time for pro-lifers, who over the past several weeks have seen the moral momentum coming from the partial-birth abortion ban evaporate.

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President Clinton's veto of the partial-birth abortion ban, while not unexpected, had drawn harsh criticism from some unexpected quarters. Billy Graham in a May 1 meeting with Mr. Clinton told the president he was wrong to veto the partial-birth abortion bill.

Moreover, black church leaders added their voices to Mr. Graham's, Pope John Paul II's, and the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, in condemning Mr. Clinton's veto. "President Clinton's veto should offend every African-American because it degrades the human person, and we know the consequences of degradation all too well,"said a statement signed by black Christian leaders, including John and Jean Thompson, pastors of the 1,500-member Harvest International Church in Lanham, Md.

As pro-lifers were beginning to gloat that they had finally blown the president's cover-forcing him to choose between his stated desire to make abortions rare and his need to appease his pro-abortion base of political support-they found themselves on the defensive, responding to headlines generated by several pro-abortion Republican governors who are supposed to be strong supporters of Bob Dole. Christie Todd Whitman of New Jersey, William Weld of Massachusetts, and George Pataki of New York all came out in support of the president's veto.

In an apparent move to appease them, Mr. Dole appointed Gov. Whitman as one of his two temporary chairmen for the party convention in San Diego. "Now imagine the first presidential debate when the abortion issue is raised," lamented FRC president Gary Bauer. "Bob Dole will attack Bill Clinton for being an extremist on the issue-even supporting eighth- and ninth-month abortions.... Clinton will be able to respond, 'If I am an extremist, why did you appoint someone who agrees with me to co-chair your convention?'"

Meanwhile, Mr. Dole's move toward the pro-aborts stirred up trouble in the pro-life ranks. Although the presumptive GOP presidential nominee appointed longtime pro-lifer Henry Hyde to chair the platform committee, pro-lifers were not assuaged. Pat Buchanan held a press conference a day after Mr. Dole's appointment of Ms. Whitman to warn of relaxing the pro-life plank's language. His position was undermined, however, after The New York Times reported that Ralph Reed, executive director of the Christian Coalition, would be willing to accept changes in the platform language.

Mr. Reed quickly fired back, asserting the Times got the story wrong and that he would in no terms accept a weakening of the current pro-life plank. But in an excerpt from his new book, Active Faith, Mr. Reed downplayed the importance of preserving the platform's explicit call for a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution, giving wiggle room to pro-abortion Republicans.

"The current platform calls for a Human Life Amendment that would ban abortion," Mr. Reed wrote in the book, excerpted in Newsweek. "To some in the pro-life community, any change in the wording is anathema, but pro-lifers could draft language that would be as morally compelling." He went on to propose new language in "words [that] are my own," but which "do not reflect the policy of the Christian Coalition."

The question for befuddled GOP leaders now is: Will the Republican Party platform reflect the policy of the Republican coalition's solid core?


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