HOUSTON -- Republican leaders open hearings today on their party's proposed platform that could trigger an explosive debate over abortion in the final week before the GOP's national convention.
Republican abortion rights advocates, who hope to modify the party's strong anti-abortion stance, say that they are being shut out of the platform deliberations and that debate is being squelched.
A party official called the charges of exclusion "outrageous."
The party also faces rumblings of internal friction on other issues -- from Vice President Dan Quayle's presence on the ticket to President Bush's handling of his campaign.
Party leaders predict that the 1992 platform, like recent predecessors, will call for a constitutional ban on abortion and appointment of judges who would uphold such a ban.
The National Republican Coalition for Choice says it was denied exhibition space at the convention and assigned hotel rooms far out of town. The group takes issue with the party's decision to move the convention's final vote on the platform to Monday morning, Aug. 18 -- opening day -- instead of on the second day, as it was in 1988.
"They don't want this convention to be about abortion," said xTC Nancy Sternoff, executive director of the coalition.
"What they've done is severely cut the time to put together support for a minority plank."
Gary Koops, Republican National Committee spokesman, said the charges of exclusion were "outrageous" and added that the National Republican Senatorial Committee staff shares a hotel with one GOP abortion rights group.
As for the Tuesday vote, he said, "I don't know the historic precedent, but I think it [the charge] is nonsense."
Republican abortion rights groups have vowed to make their views heard in Houston. They say they are planning a series of rallies, news conferences and protests outside the Astrodome, the convention site.
Colleen Parro of Dallas, executive director of Republican National Coalition for Life, dismisses the opposition as sore losers. She said they don't have the votes needed to get the issue debated at the platform hearings or the convention.
But Ms. Parro said she feared the abortion rights advocates would cause enough fuss that the party would offer some accommodating language.
Some have suggested a platform statement that the party welcomes all views; others urged a platform that is silent on the issue. But many on both sides of the issue object to either move.
Abortion rights advocates once spoke of Houston as their last stand. Now, however, National Republican Coalition for Choice Chairwoman Mary Dent Crisp calls it "only one step in the long and arduous struggle to keep abortion safe and legal."
Although abortion may be the most contentious issue, Republicans are expected to use the platform drafted this week primarily to lay out the president's economic proposals and blame Congress for the recession.
"We will have a big contrast between the parties," said Sen. Don Nickles, R-Okla., chairman of the platform committee.
"I think you will see a strong commitment to less taxes and less spending in definitive language."
Proposals are likely to include a capital gains tax cut and a line-item veto.
"It will be worded in reasonably general language so people can read a lot of the things they want to read into it," said James Miller, president of Citizens for a Sound Economy and former director of President Ronald Reagan's Office of Management and Budget.
Mr. Miller said keeping the platform in general terms allows the broadest appeal to voters.