A Brooding Silence On Abortion

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What didn't happen this week at the Republican Convention was perhaps more telling about the party's future than all the opening day speeches at the San Diego Convention Hall. What didn't happen was a floor fight on abortion.

With little ceremony and no protests after months of bitter inhouse fighting, the party on Monday adopted a platform opposed to all abortions. Abortion rights activists, including a group of unhappy Republican Party defectors, were reduced to an ill-attended press conference at a hotel blocks away from the real action. And when pro-choice governors William Weld of Massachusetts and Pete Wilson of California showed up at the convention hall, they were openly heckled by demonstrators. Only Colin Powell had the nerve to bring up the testy issue, declaring himself pro-choice and hailing the party's tolerance in allowing him a voice to speak.

One of those most upset by the party's indifference is Susan McLane, a life-long Republican and legislator in the New Hampshire House and Senate for 25 years. "I'm at the end of my rope with the GOP. This platform calls for a constitutional amendment to ban abortions even to save the life of the mother and it calls for the criminal prosecution of doctors," the gray-haired grandmother of 12 told reporters at the press conference held Monday in downtown San Diego by NARAL, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights League. "I had my children," she said, "but I care deeply about my eight granddaughters having the opportunity to have a choice." Her fear is that Dole and Kemp will oversee the dumping of Roe vs. Wade. "People like me who were Republican and cared deeply about it, we've gotten out of the party," said McLane. " The platform is a Buchanan/Robertson vision of America, and Dole and Kemp are comfortable with it."

Pro-choicers admit there is not much they can do now, but say they try to affect the votes cast in November. NARAL will be airing ads on TV denouncing Dole's voting record against abortion, first in San Diego, then across the nation. "We must be the truth squad if the party itself will not even allow its own members like Wilson, Whitman and Weld to speak," said NARAL President Kate Michelman, who is registered as an Independent. She predicted women and pro-choice men would desert the party in droves come November. On Tuesday, NARAL plans to release a poll showing the issue as an election catalyst. NARAL claims that 17 percent of the Republican Party bolted during the last presidential race on the issue of choice alone, giving Clinton the White House.

"The Dole-Kemp ticket represents the most anti-choice, anti-family planning record in history. Together they have cast 150 votes against choice and family planning," argues Michelman. Kemp, despite his moderate image, she said, has voted consistently during his 18-year career against family planning and to deny Medicaid funded abortions to women even in cases of rape, incest and life endangerment. During his 1988 campaign, Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition was a Kemp delegate and Phyllis Schafly was an internal adviser. "This man may be a nice guy. He may be a bridge between the Republican Party and the average American," she said. "But he is not a bridge to women. " With polls showing Dole trailing Clinton by as much as 30 points among women, Republicans can only hope she's wrong. -->