Pro-Choice Republicans Undaunted, Vow to Fight On

The only surprise at the Republican National Convention may be the determination of the pro-choice Republicans not to give up. They are pressing on, offering delegates pizza, polls, pamphlets and pieces of their minds.


PHILADELPHIA, July 27-Pro-choice Republicans set up campaign headquarters here within flag-waving distance of the party's platform committee meetings just as presidential candidate George W. Bush was selecting anti-choice Dick Cheney as a running mate.

They were not ignoring Bush's decision. Far from it. They are more determined than ever that their party listen to them, even if he will not.

Right now, they will not be given a chance to appear before the platform committee. Instead, their written statement from a Montana platform hearing will be entered into the committee's official records.

Undaunted, the pro-choice Republicans have paid for a roving billboard to promote their view that the party's platform should be neutral on abortion. The company refused to permit the use the word “abortion.” No problem. The pro-choicers substituted “the A word” as in, “Take the A word out of the platform.”

On Thursday, platform delegates are invited to a pizza party at the campaign headquarters, and, later in the evening, to a joint reception with another group, Republicans for Choice, headed by Ann Stone

On Wednesday, in a show of solidarity, four pro-choice Republicans joined in a press conference to denounce the platform.

And in a hotel across from the meeting site, the Republican Pro-Choice Coalition has 25 phone lines, six computers, three faxes, and one multi-functional copying machine, along with black painter's hats, yellow T-shirts, blue carry-alls, message buttons, posters and tiny pins.

There, 200 volunteers, joining a half-dozen paid staffers, began phone calling each of the thousands of delegates.

1996 Republican Party Platform

The unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life whichcannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and weendorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment'sprotections apply to unborn children. Our purpose is to havelegislative and judicial protection of that right against those who perform abortions.We oppose using public revenues for abortion and will not fundorganizations which advocate it. We support the appointment of judges who respecttraditional family values and the sanctity of innocent human life.

They are very serious.

In the biggest and most orchestrated effort to date, pro-choice Republicans are making known their opposition to the inclusion of a single paragraph in the platform, a long and often florid document that describes the party's positions. Pro-choice members want the party to acknowledge a diversity of opinion on abortion by eliminating anti-abortion references that call for a constitutional amendment to ban abortion and the selection of judges based on their anti-choice positions.

“It's no easy task,” says Lynn Grefe, the coalition's national director not usually given to understatements.

She also issued a public invitation to join the telephone banks to Cheney after he said on network television that the party leaders should “be understanding” of other Republicans' views.

The platform is the last chance for Republicans to reach out to women, says Grefe, a New Yorker who had a background in corporate media campaigns before joining pro-choice Republican advocacy five years ago.

“If they make no change in the platform, can they win? The answer is ‘no,'” Grefe adds.

“Americans elected a pro-choice Democrat in the last two elections. I don't know what polls they haven't been reading.”

Grefe believes that the number of anti-choice ideologues who would abandon the Republican Party if the platform change were made is more than offset by the number of pro-choice voters who would come back to the party if it were more inclusive.

One prominent Republican the pro-choice groups point to is gynecologist Dr. LeRoy Carhart of Nebraska. His challenge to what he called the Nebraska “partial truth” abortion law was decided in his favor by the U.S. Supreme Court in June and the similar laws in 30 other states that limit first and second trimester abortions are in doubt as a result.

Carhart, a physician for 27 years and an abortion provider, openly wishes he could support his party. At a press conference with the National Abortion Federation and pro-choice Republicans, Carhart explained why he has felt so strongly about the issue ever since he was a medical student in Philadelphia before abortion was legal in Pennsylvania.

“I witnessed women dying from self-attempted and illegal abortions,” he said. “Calling for a constitutional amendment to ban all abortion is not sensible, and not safe for women.” He said he wants to claim his heritage as a Republican, but cannot abide by its stance on women's right to choose the health care that is best for them.

Grefe admits that getting a change on the platform is an uphill fight, since the presidential and vice presidential candidates and all three of the platform heads-Gov. Tommy Thompson, Sen. William Frist and Congresswoman Sue Myrick-are anti-choice. But she is determined to make every effort to wring change before the scheduled closing, now set for Saturday at 6 p.m.

Neutrality on abortion is sensible and what most people want, she insists.

“To the normal citizen-they're just tired of reading about abortion in the news. They think: ‘It's my business,'” says Grefe. “We're a political party. This shouldn't be an issue.”

Cynthia L. Cooper is a New York-based freelance writer.