MIAMI -- Revealing a deep division within Republican ranks, the Young Republican National Federation voted yesterday to remove from its platform an anti-abortion plank that has been a staple of the party's platform since 1980.
"Pro-life is a losing issue for Republicans," said Rosanne Garber of Virginia, a delegate to the federation's convention here.
"I don't want to embarrass the White House," said Scott Bill Hirst of Rhode Island. "But I'm pro-choice. I think it's a political liability not to be. I think it will cost us votes."
The president's nomination of conservative U.S. Circuit Judge Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court earlier this month -- and the likelihood that the court will reverse Roe vs. Wade, which gave women the right to choose abortion -- brought new urgency to the abortion debate, supporters and opponents said last week.
If the Supreme Court returns that debate to the states, abortion could become a deciding issue in many state and local elections, they said.
Democrats, whose party favors abortion rights, say they may now focus on lobbying state legislatures to adopt constitutional amendments and resolutions, such as those in California and Florida, that protect choice through a right of privacy.
But Republicans face an internal fight: Their party platform calls for a constitutional amendment banning abortion, but some members are increasingly saying they won't accept such a rigid view.
That includes several hundred Young Republicans who forced a showdown on the issue yesterday. The group's previous planks on abortion had mirrored the national party platform. But after a contentious debate, members voted to table an anti-abortion plank despite warnings from some delegates that the parent organization, the Republican National Committee, might retaliate by withholding funding.
Other groups are debating the issue as well. In Washington, D.C., the National Women's Political Caucus is scheduled to close its 20th anniversary convention today by passing resolutions that oppose the Thomas nomination and support overturning the administration's gag rule on abortion counseling federally funded family-planning clinics.
In the wake of Judge Thomas' nomination, the bipartisan caucus also quickly changed its agenda to include extra abortion-rights panels. At one such panel, Republican women discussed electing more candidates who favor abortion rights and altering the party's platform.
Representative Constance A. Morella, R-Md.-8th, said that overturning Roe vs. Wade would produce a "very vocal and active revolution" against the Bush administration.
"Why is it so hard to get the national Republican leadership to face the fact that the 1980, '84 and '88 platforms' abortion planks are out of step with the rank-and-file of our party -- let alone the American people?" Tanya Melich, a Republican political consultant from New York, asked the panel.
With court action on Roe vs. Wade likely next year, many Republicans believe that the party's anti-abortion stand could thwart its efforts in 1992 to gain seats in the Democratic-controlled Congress.
"Look, I'm from the conservative wing of the party, so I didn't take this on lightly," said Ann Stone, a prominent Republican attending the Miami convention. "But Roe vs. Wade is as good as gone, and if we don't have a platform that reflects diversity of opinion on this question, we are sunk on the state and local level."
The vote yesterday followed debate on anti-abortion language and on a minority report favoring abortion rights introduced by Rhode Island's Mr. Hirst.
Later, apparently concerned about the appearance of an internal split, the convention delegates overwhelmingly passed on a voice vote a broad measure reaffirming their support of the national party's entire 1988 platform, including its anti-abortion language.