Anti-abortion advocates in GOP seek to bar party funds from foes Candidates who favor late-term abortions would be cut off

January 02, 1998|By KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

WASHINGTON -- In a move that could reverberate through the Republican Party for years to come, anti-abortion activists are seeking to cut off party funds to any candidates who support late-term, or "partial-birth," abortions.

The proposal, which will be voted on this month by the Republican National Committee, effectively would end the party's decades-long quest to be a "big tent" that welcomes members from both sides of the divisive issue.

It easily could hurt Republicans in close races where party money often makes a difference, as it did for New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman in her 1997 re-election. Whitman, who supports abortion rights and opposed a state ban on late-term abortions that left no room for exceptions, would be just one of several big GOP names denied party money under the proposal.

Some supporters of abortion rights probably would stay away from politics, say opponents of the measure. And some would probably change their position, say sponsors.

"It may change some votes, but in a greater sense it may enable more anti-abortion Republicans to run and squeeze out abortion-rights supporters," said Dennis Goldford, a political scientist at Drake University in Iowa. "They could get to the point where they push out the remaining Republican moderates."

While that might solidify opposition to the abortion procedure in years to come, it probably would not change the immediate prospects for outlawing it.

Congress already overwhelmingly favors a ban, but has been unable thus far to override President Clinton's vetoes. The Senate is expected to try again sometime this year. But most of the handful of congressional Republicans who support the right to abortion are unlikely to change their positions and are likely to win re-election despite the ban on funds.

At the state level, legal challenges and court rulings have stopped any prohibitions from going into effect.

Still, supporters think turning off one of the sources of campaign money is a powerful way to lead to a prohibition.

"Candidates will take their position more seriously. If you're going to lose funding, you'll have to reconsider your position," said Tim Lambert, a Republican National Committee member from Texas who is proposing the ban on funds.

"We're talking about people in tight races, challengers who need money. Most challengers look for support wherever they can find it."

In the Congress, the funds cutoff could affect eight Republicans in the House, including Constance A. Morella of Maryland, and four Republicans in the Senate who voted against the abortion ban in 1997.

All eight House members are up for re-election in 1998, but

seven enjoy safe seats and have won their recent elections by comfortable margins.

None of the senators faces re-election in 1998. The terms of three are up in 2000 and the fourth in 2002. All are from moderate to liberal states in the Northeast.

Party insiders think Lambert will win the approval of a majority on the nine-member Resolutions Committee this month when the party holds its winter meeting in Palm Springs, Calif. The outcome is less certain in the full, 165-member Republican National Committee.

Despite broad opposition to the abortion procedure, party leaders are nervous about the debate as they look for ways to win back women voters who abandoned the party in great numbers in 1996.

At the core of the debate is a controversial abortion procedure in which a fetus is partially extracted, then its brain suctioned out to collapse the skull.

"It's infanticide," Lambert said in a telephone interview. "I believe donors to the Republican national party don't want their money going to candidates who support such a radical position."

Pub Date: 1/02/98

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