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Seeking to Toughen GOP's Stance on Abortion, Panel Revises Platform

Convention: Rewrite calls for a total ban, failing to note that some, George W. Bush included, disagree.


PHILADELPHIA — Beating back mild protests, Republicans moved Friday to adopt a platform that favors a total ban on abortion while failing to acknowledge that some in the party--including George W. Bush--disagree.

Abortion foes mustered sizable majorities to crush efforts to strike the platform's anti-abortion plank, then soundly rejected a call to recognize divergent views concerning the emotional issue.

"We are pro-life and proud of it, and our candidates are proud of it," said Chuck Sigerson, chairman of the Nebraska Republican Party.

On a day of housekeeping before Monday's convention kickoff, early arriving delegates combed line-by-line through a draft of the GOP's 64-page platform and, separately, killed a plan to change the Republican presidential nominating process.

The change, which would have forced big states such as California to hold their primary elections last as part of an effort to extend the primary season, was rejected after the Bush camp voiced its opposition.

Outside a meeting of the party's Rules Committee, Karl Rove, the Bush campaign's chief strategist, expressed concern that changing the process could place Republicans at a disadvantage because Democrats might not follow suit. Each party sets its own rules for picking its presidential standard-bearer.

A more immediate concern for the Bush campaign, however, was the prospect of a convention fight over the primary calendar, which could have distracted from the harmonious and tension-free atmosphere the Bush campaign is working hard to project.

Stand Is Softened on Some Issues

As part of the gentler tone, the party released a preliminary platform that softens its official stance on a range of issues, from education to immigration and the environment. After a day spent tinkering, there were no major changes to the draft document. In fact, compared to the bitter debate at previous GOP conventions, Friday's proceedings were downright tame.

Typical was the abortion debate. The issue has been a perennial source of tension within the GOP and was expected to again be a flash point. But the discussion in the party's "family and community" subcommittee lasted scarcely 45 minutes.

The platform calls for a constitutional amendment to ban abortion, without exception, and the appointment of anti-abortion judges. Those positions go beyond Bush's stance. The Texas governor opposes judicial litmus tests and would allow abortion in cases of rape, incest or to save a mother's life--facts that abortion rights advocates were quick to point out.

Toni Casey, a California delegate from Los Altos Hills, said the platform not only contravened Bush's views but also failed to reflect the beliefs of "thousands and thousands of . . . Republican men and women that are part of this great party and deserve a role and a voice in this platform."

She called for dropping the abortion plank, arguing that the procedure is "a personal issue between a woman and her own religion."

But anti-abortion advocates said the party needed to make a clear and unequivocal statement. "Many of us are under a higher authority," said Meribelle Bolton of New Mexico. "I'm under the authority of the creator of the universe, and he is pro-life. Always has been, always will be."

After Casey's motion was defeated in the subcommittee on a 10-3 vote, she proposed adding a paragraph to the platform welcoming people "on all sides of this complex issue."

"I can't understand why we are afraid of being inclusive," she said.

But other subcommittee members pointed to language elsewhere in the platform recognizing that "members of our party can have deeply held and sometimes differing views." To attach specific language to the abortion section would amount to an asterisk, said delegate Rand Larson of Vermont, and would "defeat the whole purpose of the statement."

Casey's follow-up motion on the inclusion paragraph was defeated by an 11-3 count. Hours later, the full platform committee took up the proposed amendments and overwhelmingly rejected both.

Afterward, abortion rights advocates said they would continue to press their case in hopes of mustering enough support to bring the matter to the floor when the convention opens Monday and delegates vote on adoption of the platform. "It's not over," insisted Ann Stone of the group Republicans for Choice.

Seeking to avert a floor fight on a different topic, members of the Rules Committee bowed to a last-minute lobbying effort by the Bush campaign and soundly defeated, 66 to 33, a proposed change in the timetable for nominating the party's presidential nominees.

The "Delaware plan" would have revised the primary calendar to allow smaller states to vote first, followed several months later by the largest states. Advocates argued that the current system, which bunches most contests into a six-week window, moves far too quickly and wraps up the nominating process before most voters are paying attention.

Big States Oppose Shifting Primaries

But big-state representatives asserted that the alternative effectively would have disenfranchised their voters by making them go last, after the nomination was, for all intents, decided. California Secretary of State Bill Jones, the state's chief election officer, applauded the proposal's defeat.

Speaking from Fresno, he said the vote to kill the Delaware plan averted a big-versus-small battle and would not necessarily hamper efforts to slow the nominating process. "We need to stay the course and not stop this," Jones said. "Nobody should feel this is a loss."

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