Tolerance and the abortion issue Can they mix? Dole seeks a way to prevent poisonous GOP platform fight.

June 09, 1996

FROM THE 1980 Republican platform: "While we recognize differing views on this [abortion] question among Americans in general -- and in our own party -- we affirm our support of a constitutional amendment to restore protection of the right to life for unborn children."

By the 1984 convention, which nominated Ronald Reagan for the second time, the GOP was no longer recognizing "differing views on this question." The anti-abortion movement was in full control of the party.

By 1992, abortion had become so politicized that Pennsylvania's pro-life governor, Bob Casey, was not allowed to address the Democratic convention and the Republican convention was so manifestly intolerant of the "differing views" of abortion-rights advocates that George Bush's re-election bid was damaged.

Now comes Sen. Bob Dole, an opponent of abortion, with a desperate call for a "declaration of tolerance for different points of view on issues such as abortion" in the 1996 GOP platform. He wants no retreat from the unyielding language of the 1984, 1988 and 1992 platforms. But he says "no one will be turned away from our convention or my campaign because they do not agree with me on these issues."

Neither the Republican Party nor its nominee will so easily get off an abortion hook that is largely self-imposed. Most Americans don't like abortion and want it used only rarely, but they oppose governmental intrusion into one of a woman's most intimate decisions. The resulting female preference for the Democratic Party -- the so-called gender gap -- is worrisome to pragmatic Republicans. But to the powerful religious right wing of the party, the anti-abortion cause is more important than winning elections. And its reaction to Senator Dole's statement demonstrates that the 1980 Reaganite handling of the issue is not acceptable.

If the 1996 platform is to have a "declaration of tolerance," the religious right does not want it tied 1980-fashion to abortion. Its spokesmen want it strictly as a general statement in the preamble covering the whole gamut of issues traditionally thrown into a party platform. Can anyone doubt that Pat Buchanan and his brigades will settle for anything less?

But will such an amorphous approach be acceptable to pro-choice governors like Pete Wilson of California, Christie Whitman of New Jersey, George Pataki of New York and William Weld of Massachusetts, who want a big-tent, inclusive convention? Mr. Wilson suggests not.

Senator Dole was absolutely right in calling for a "tolerant spirit" and a "decent regard" for the opinions of others on abortion. Now he has to show he can make his will prevail.

Pub Date: 6/09/96

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