Militant advocates on both sides of the abortion issue are clashing at Republican Party platform hearings in Salt Lake City, with the prospective presidential candidacy of Ross Perot adding new complexity to the political factors that have shaped the 20-year-long controversy over constitutional rights and moral principles.
Proponents of modifying the 1988 platform's unsparing opposition to abortion hailed the party's willingness to let them air their views as a sign of progress, and contended that Mr. Perot's likely candidacy increases the pressure on President Bush to modify the stringent anti-abortion language. Perot, whose strong showing in the polls has stunned the political world, supports the right to abortion.
Mr. Perot offers "a place to go for Republican women" who disagree with the platform position "but couldn't vote for [Bill] Clinton," the expected Democratic standard-bearer, Ann Stone said in an interview. Stone, who testified at the hearings, is chairwoman of Republicans for Choice.
But Phyllis Schlafly, head of the Republican National Coalition for Life who testified in support of retaining the 1988 language, contended that the Perot factor would work the other way. "Perot and Clinton will split the pro-choice vote," she said at a press conference, which would allow Mr. Bush to garner the solid support of committed abortion foes.
Another factor mitigating against a shift by the president is that it would be taken as a sign of political weakness. Mr. Bush has already changed his position on the issue once, when he abandoned his previous support of the right to abortion after Ronald Reagan picked him as his running mate in 1980.
If Mr. Bush changed his position again, "it would send the wrong message," said Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, who attended the opening of the hearings.
At issue are three separate sections of the 1988 platform, which call for a constitutional ban on abortion, establish opposition to abortion as a criteria for judicial appointments and oppose funding of international organizations involved in abortion.
The Salt Lake hearings are part of a series of forums that the GOP is holding around the country to gather opinion on various issues. The platform will be drafted a week before the mid-August convention in Houston.