Republican and pro-choice

Christine Todd Whitman

August 25, 1992|By Christine Todd Whitman

TO THE surprise of many pundits and to the disappointment of many Democrats, the 1992 Republican National Convention ended as it began -- on an upbeat note.

Despite our differences, Republicans understand that the top priority in the next 10 weeks is the re-election of George Bush and the election of a Republican Congress.

But as we return to our states, it is likely that one divisive subject will dominate the national debate.

Despite predictions that it will disappear as the economy and other issues move to the fore, abortion may become the defining issue in the campaign.

Those of us who are loyal Republicans and pro-choice will be RTC asked how we can defend a party whose platform is so rigidly anti-choice.

We will be asked if there is any real room for those who believe in a woman's right to choose to have an abortion. And at the same time we will be asked to convince Americans that their diverse views on choice are not inconsistent with supporting Bush and other Republicans.

As a lifelong Republican I can say there is room in the GOP for those who advocate choice. Remember that no dissident voices were allowed to be heard at the Democratic convention.

By contrast, the Republicans have never been that monolithic.

A great deal has been made about the GOP's being a "big tent." I prefer to describe it as a big umbrella.

Like an umbrella, it has a central core. Indeed, the party has a basic philosophy that holds it together, a purpose strong enough to unite its members despite the many diverse opinions they hold.

Republicans believe that problems are best solved at the level closest to the people, and that the nation's strength comes from the diversity of its people, not from an all-powerful central government.

No party platform devised by either party can reflect the opinions or beliefs of all its members. Accepting that premise allows for even an emotional issue like abortion rights to be kept in perspective.

Am I happy with my party's position on abortion? No.

Like Barbara Bush, I don't believe the issue belongs in a partisan platform. I don't believe the government has a right to tell a woman what to do with her body any more than it should tell a chief executive how to run his company.

Personal and family matters, relationships between doctors and patients should not be within the federal purview.

Having said that, there are areas in which the pro-choice and anti-choice sides can work together. We all should support better sex education to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

We should also back organizations that assist women who are pregnant outside of marriage and who choose to bring the pregnancy to term -- whether these groups help with parenting skills or adoption placement.

Through the heat of this debate the central core of the Republican philosophy has not changed.

I may not like the current interpretation of that philosophy relative to abortion rights, but interpretations have changed before and will change again.

To succeed in November, the Bush campaign must continue what it began as the convention ended in Houston: by emphasizing the ideals Republicans share while recognizing the divergent viewpoints in the party.

Many state platforms, including that of my home state, New Jersey, reflect the right to choose. Many Republican candidates support the right to choose. Inevitably, there will be more.

You can be pro-Republican and pro-Bush and not give up a belief in the right to choose.

I and thousands of other Republicans are proof of that.

Christine Todd Whitman, the New Jersey Republican candidate for the Senate in 1990, is chairman of the Committee for an Affordable New Jersey.

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