Republican Contenders Address Abortion - April 1999

California -- Speaking last week before a pro-life segment of the Republican party in California, five Republican hopefuls for the presidential nomination underscored the similarities -- and some differences -- of the candidates on the abortion question.

The Los Angeles Times reports that before the California Republican Assembly, Gary Bauer, Bob Smith, Steve Forbes, Alan Keyes and Patrick Buchanan sounded "most consistently an uncompromising stance against abortion under all circumstances."

Buchanan said, "We fought our hearts out in '92 and '96 and we kept the party pro-life. We're going to keep the party pro-life in the year 2000" (Barabak, Los Angeles Times, 4/26).

Forbes told attendees that life "begins with the freedom to be born." But while the party "shouldn't be ashamed of our principles," he added that America will not be ready to ban abortions until public opinion shifts (Borenstein, Contra Costa Times, 4/25). He said, "[M]any people do not yet agree with our ultimate goal -- a life amendment. And while there will be times of disappointment, if you're not out there working on it, how do you make it happen? How do you turn people's minds?"

Speaking after Forbes, Bauer "bemoaned such 'incrementalism' and made clear that outlawing abortion would be his top priority." He said, "We've been sentenced to nothing but incrementalism. But I'm certainly going to remind all of my rivals for the nomination that the next president doesn't have to talk about incrementalism -- the next president is likely to be able to appoint at least two Supreme Court Justices" (Lindlaw, AP/ Detroit Free Press, 4/25). Smith asked, "What would have happened if Lincoln said, 'I'm opposed to slavery, but if my neighbors want to own slaves, that's OK'?"

Those attending the California Republican Assembly conference were split concerning how the pro-life movement shoul dnow approach the issue. Vice President Tom Layton said we should find common ground with moderates on abortion, such as late-term abortion and parental consent laws. He said, "There's one great divide between the conservatives and moderates, and that's abortion. I'm close to being a pro-life purist. But in terms of tactics, this makes sense." CRA member Camille Giglio, former president of California Right to Life, said, "We've got to have a platform and stick to it and be proud of it" (Contra Costa Times, 4/25).

During her "first classic campaign swing" through Iowa, Republican presidential hopeful Elizabeth Dole sat down with USA Today for a brief interview. Responding to the question of whether her recently articulated abortion stance marks a personal "evolution," Dole replied: "No, it's just my view, which is that we should understand that good and honorable people have differences of views and that we can agree to respectfully disagree. It's a dead-end debate to spend time and energy on whether or not a constitutional amendment should be passed, because it's simply not going to happen. ... People don't want it. There's not the support in the Congress, as we can easily see, and they represent the people" (Lawrence, USA Today, 4/26).

Meanwhile, presidential candidate George Bush was in Texas stumping for abstinence.

Gov. George W. Bush congratulated a group of teenagers who convened on the state Capitol lawn in support of sexual abstinence, saying they should be applauded for their efforts.

Bush said, "It's not cool in some people's minds to say I'm going to wait until I find the person I want to marry for life. I think it's cool, and I applaud your leadership."

Baptist leaders convened the Capitol rally to highlight the abstinence campaign "True Love Waits", and to allow students to display pledge cards they signed as a promise to remain celibate until marriage. The cards state, "Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate, and my future children to be sexually abstinent from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship" (Root, Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, 4/25).

Event coordinator Jane Wilson said the rally was meant to "celebrate the commitments made by hundreds of thousands of students concerning sexual purity and to show Texans that 'not everyone is doing it'" (AP/Dallas Morning News, 4/25). The True Love Waits campaign, launched by the Southern Baptist Convention in 1993, "has since spread worldwide through many religious denominations, student groups and health care organizations" (Robison, Houston Chronicle, 4/25).

Asked about his younger days, Bush acknowledged that he was once "young and irresponsible," but said, "I think the thing that baby boomers have got to say is not did we make mistakes but have we learned from our mistakes and are willing to share the wisdom" (Star-Telegram, 4/25).

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