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Abortion Sticks In GOP Craw

A Republican hearing on what should be in the party's platform was a pro-choice affair, offering choice on education, Social Security and Medicare.

But not on abortion, a topic that didn't come up at a meeting held Monday to hear policy advice from invited experts.

Abortion - the prickliest internal policy issue for the GOP - is being left to private meetings to be chaired by Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, platform committee chairman. Thompson hopes to head off a divisive struggle at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia.

Thompson, himself an abortion opponent, said Monday: "It's just not going to be that the abortion issue is going to define the Republican Party."

Possible GOP
Platform Changes

  • Removing the plank - from the 1996 platform - calling for shutting the Education Department is an explicit goal for George W. Bush.
  • The position on immigration will be changed. The existing platform opposes taxpayer support of legal and illegal immigrants and says U.S.-born children of illegal aliens should not be granted automatic American citizenship; Bush takes a more welcoming view of legal immigrants.
  • The platform will contain a new plank on women's health.
  • Although the platform will embrace the goal of letting parents choose from among schools, Thompson said "I don't know if it'll ever go as far as I think it should go" on that point.
  • Bush proposes limited circumstances under which parents could use federal education money to help pay for private schooling. Thompson has pioneered a more comprehensive choice program in his state. (AP)

  • But whether Thompson can succeed in diffusing the explosive issue in backroom policy meetings remains to be seen.

    While expressing doubt that the party's uncompromising position against abortion will be amended, Thompson said he wants a "fresh" platform that is like none before it.

    "I'm going to do everything I possibly can to bring as many disparate groups in and broaden the base of the Republican Party," he said.

    Thompson has been meeting Republicans on both sides of the abortion issue, as well as others wanting a say in the platform. He says he will continue to do so up to the July 31-Aug. 3 gathering.

    Several abortion-rights Republicans pulled him aside after the hearing to emphasize the party will be hurt if it does not change its plank calling for a no-exceptions abortion ban. A small group of activists on both sides put on brief, orderly demonstrations outside.

    On other issues, Republican officials and analysts and advocates voiced support for choice; namely George W. Bush's proposals to help parents pick from among schools, offer more health plan alternatives to the elderly and giving workers the chance to invest ther payroll taxes in personal retirement accounts.

    "Choice and the freedom to choose - that concept permeated each discussion," said Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, a member of the hearing panel.

    Asked why choice was not discussed in the context of abortion rights, Frist said: "Not one person in this room is not going to be affected by education, Social Security and Medicare."

    Bush has said he would not seek changes in the plank despite his belief that abortion should be allowed in cases of rape, incest and to save the life of the woman.

    "I doubt very much if it's going to be changed," Thompson said. Abortion-rights Republicans have been hoping at least for a platform that welcomes their point of view, a goal they failed to achieve in 1996.

    Thompson said the platform will address other issues he contends are more important to women than abortion policy, such as education, family values and health matters.

    Generally, he said, "I would be very shocked if this is a platform like previous platforms. I want this one to be very fresh, very visionary, very exciting and very inclusive."

    Some religious conservatives, while pleased with Bush's stance on the abortion plank, are worried he might pick a running mate who supports abortion rights.

    Thompson said Bush is right to avoid ruling someone out based on that issue. "I don't think there should be a litmus test and he certainly doesn't, either."

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