Bush's Comments on Abortion Spark Debate About His Position

WASHINGTON -- March 1999 -- Recent comments by possible presidential candidate George W. Bush have sparked a heated debate within the pro-life movement about whether or not Bush is pro-life and worthy of support.

Last week, the nation's largest pro-life organization sought to shed light on Bush's stand on abortion and record as Texas Governor and urge pro-life organizations to not attack pro-life candidates.

The National Right to Life Committee last week urged GOP presidential contenders who oppose abortion not to attack each other but instead focus on Vice President Al Gore, the likely Democratic nominee and pro-abortion stalwart.

NRLC Executive Director David O'Steen is urging all pro-lifers, including candidates and their supporters, to refrain from attacking pro-life candidates and look to the candidates themselves, rather than the media, for the candidate's true position.

"Governor Bush has a pro-life record and has taken a pro-life position," O'Steen said, adding that pro-life supporters who truly want to save unborn children should concentrate on exposing Vice President Al Gore's pro-abortion position, rather than attacking pro-life positions of other Republicans.

Christian Coalition founder and pro-family advocate Pat Robertson joined in National Right to Life's assessment.

Robertson, appearing on CNN's Larry King show, said he "totally" agrees with Bush's approach to abortion; that until the composition of the Supreme Court changes, "we might as well take the incremental approach."

NRLC points to the comments by NBC's Tim Russert made on Sunday's Meet the Press. During an exchange with pro-life Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, Russert asked, "Governor Bush also says he believes that abortion is an issue of life, human life, but is for exceptions for rape, incest or health of the mother. Is that consistent?"

NRLC seeks to clarify the vague legal definition of "health" of the mother. In a 1973 Supreme Court decision, "health" of the mother was defined to include "all factors physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age relevant to the well-being of the patient."

"This wording has allowed abortions to be performed for any reason," NRLC said in a statement released last Wednesday. "However, Bush has clearly stated, on several occasions, that the circumstances when abortion should be allowed are limited to protect the life of the mother, rape or incest," not including the pro-abortion health of the mother exception.

Bush describes himself a "pro-life person" and has said he would back a constitutional amendment to ban most abortions. A statement released by Bush's exploratory committee said that his "consistent position on abortion is he is pro-life with the exception of rape, incest and the life of the mother." He has not put that as his main focus because the amendment lacks support. Instead, he believes the country should focus on ways to reduce the number of abortions.

The statement continued, the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion "will not be overturned until hearts are changed. Until then, we should focus on ways to reduce abortion."

"There is no way his stance can be described as pro-life," said Colleen Parro, director of the Republican National Coalition for Life.

Yet the Republicans for Life Political Action Committee, a national group working to elect pro-life Republicans over GOP abortion advocates, issued a statement calling Parro's assertion wrong. The PAC noted that her organization has declined to support hundreds of pro-life candidates.

"The pro-life movement has historically supported candidates who take rape and incest exceptions because those candidates agree that abortion kills unborn children and that it's horribly wrong. Such candidates vote pro-life, support pro-life legislation, and have worked alongside the pro-life movement in many battles over the years," the Republicans for Life PAC statement indicated.

A spokesperson for National Right to Life expressed similar seniments.

"Governor Bush's position would eliminate about 98 percent of all abortions currently being performed, and we would certainly regard that as a pro-life position," said Carol Tobias, head of NRLC's political action committee. "We are not going to fight with someone who agrees with us on 98 percent of the cases."

NRLC points to another example of Bush's stance being twisted -- the "assertion that he would support a constitutional amendment only if more voters supported it." Bush has affirmed his support for a human life amendment.

"This is true because it takes two-thirds of both the U.S. House and Senate to pass a constitutional amendment and three-fourths of the state legislatures to ratify it," the NRLC statement said. "There is nowhere near that level of support in Congress at this time."

NRLC Political Action Committee Director Carol Long Tobias said, "Governor Bush's support of legislation to save the lives we can in the meantime, such as banning partial-birth abortion and requiring parental notification before abortions are performed on minors, is entirely appropriate and consistent with the immediate goals of the pro-life movement."

Tobias said National Right to Life issued the statement without any prodding from Bush and without telling him and does not constitute an endorsement of the Bush campaign.

A Bush spokeswoman, Mindy Tucker, said the governor "appreciates the National Right to Life leadership recognizing his commitment to life."

On another key issue -- whether the Republican Party's official platform position on abortion, which supports a human life amendment, should be retained -- the Bush statement was clear: "The Republican Party should maintain its pro-life tenor."

Meanwhile, other Republican candidates chimed in on Bush's stance.

Buchanan, appearing on the Fox Network, said in response to a question about Bush's abortion stand: "I think leadership requires you to stand up and say 'This is wrong, and our goal is to end abortion in the United States. Our immediate goal is to appoint justices to the Supreme Court who will overturn Roe v. Wade."

One GOP presidential candidate, Gary Bauer, has attacked Bush's abortion stand as vague. ``I don't see how a 'compassionate conservative' can be ambiguous about protecting unborn children,'' Bauer said.

Most of the GOP presidential candidates have adopted strong stands on abortion. Buchanan, Gary Bauer, Rep. John R. Kasich (R-OH) and Sen. Robert C. Smith (R-NH) would explicitly demand that Supreme Court appointees oppose abortion.

Former vice president Dan Quayle said his opposition to abortion is "rooted in conscience" and those he would pick for the Supreme Court "will share it." Steve Forbes's nominees "would have to agree with [Forbes's] outlook," an aide said. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) "would certainly surround himself with people who share his values" in making appointments, according to a spokesman.

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