Dole stand on abortion generally welcomed Candidate urges tolerance of divergent viewpoints

Campaign 1996

June 08, 1996|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Bob Dole's announcement that he favors a Republican platform that preserves the party's anti-abortion stand but recognizes divergent viewpoints was generally welcomed yesterday by anti-abortion conservatives, some of whom had threatened to disrupt the party's convention.

With his two-pronged pronouncement Thursday night, Dole sought to avert a divisive fight within the party.

His aim was to reassure conservatives that he would not try to weaken the party's anti-abortion plank, while also reaching out to abortion-rights proponents by proposing a platform clause that espouses "decent regard for the opinions of those who disagree."

"This is not compromise," Dole said. "It is civility."

Some abortion-rights proponents, including two Republican governors, who want to change the party's position on abortion expressed disappointment with Dole's plan, saying it did not go far enough.

But at least several Republican moderates said they were encouraged by it.

Dole aides said they hoped the plan, in the works for weeks, would go a long way to avert a battle over the topic of abortion -- the most explosive issue for the party -- at the Republican convention this summer.

"Only time will tell," said one, "but the pro-life activists believe this is good news."

The likely Republican presidential nominee also hopes to set an inclusive tone for the San Diego convention, in contrast to the intolerance and exclusion that some say marked the 1992 GOP convention and contributed to George Bush's loss.

Dole, campaigning in Tennessee yesterday, said he thought his announcement -- his clearest statement to date of his plans for the Republican platform -- would get abortion "out of the convention. We don't want the convention dominated by the media talking about one issue."

President Clinton, for his part, praised Dole's statement, saying, "Anything that restores civility in this debate is a positive thing, and I applaud him for it."

But the president, who enjoys a wide lead over Dole among women and abortion-rights supporters, noted that while Dole favors a constitutional amendment to ban abortions, he himself does not.

"There is a real difference there that I don't think can be papered over," Clinton said.

Most anti-abortion conservatives said yesterday that they supported Dole's proposal, so long as the "declaration of tolerance" applied to all the issues in the platform -- not just abortion -- and was placed in the preamble of the entire platform, not attached to the specific abortion plank.

Ronald Reagan added such a clause to the Republican platform in 1980.

But anti-abortion forces blocked language recognizing different opinions from 1984 on.

Gary Bauer, head of the conservative Family Research Council, said the "big tent" language "is fine if it's generic language at the beginning of the platform that recognizes differences on abortion, Bosnia, term limits."

But he and other anti-abortion activists said they would adamantly oppose such language if it was aimed solely at the issue of abortion.

"That would send a signal that abortion was not as important as other things when to millions of people it's more important," Bauer said.

Patrick J. Buchanan, Dole's fiercest primary foe, who had threatened a convention walk-out if the 1992 anti-abortion plank was tampered with -- and who has refused to endorse Dole -- called Dole's statement "welcome news for the cause of life."

He said he would accept a "general statement" in the preamble of the platform saying that "we respect and welcome in our ranks those who may disagree with one or several of the planks of this platform."

A Dole aide said the precise placement of the "declaration of tolerance" would be decided by the platform committee.

But he said such a statement clearly "would apply to a larger set of issues," and not just abortion.

Govs. Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey and George E. Pataki of New York, both Republicans who support abortion rights, said the Dole measure was a positive step and reflected Dole's desire to broaden the party.

Their support could blunt efforts by other abortion-rights supporters in the party -- including Govs. Pete Wilson of California and William F. Weld of Massachusetts, who were not mollified by Dole's plan -- to force a floor debate on the issue.

Wilson said Dole's statement did not go far enough. "We feel strongly that the Republican Party can and should offer a more realistic and relevant response to questions about reproductive choice and privacy," he said.

Weld said he thought the platform should include either broader language inviting abortion-rights supporters into the party or no position on the abortion issue.

Other Republican abortion-rights proponents said they were outraged by Dole's plan.

"This is a joke," said Tanya Melich, a Republican abortion-rights activist.

"Welcoming us into the party doesn't mean anything. They've been saying this for years. This is a cancer in the party," she added.

Susan R. Cullman, chairman of the Republican Coalition for Choice, said she was "guardedly optimistic" about Dole's position. But, she added, the inclusion of a plank supporting a constitutional amendment banning abortion will be a "clear deal-breaker" for women voters and could cost Dole the election.

Pub Date: 6/08/96

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