After what one abortion rights advocate called a "flirtation with moderation," Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush chose a running mate who opposes abortion rights.
Former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney is against all forms of abortion, even in cases of rape, incest, and when the life of the mother is in danger - a position more conservative than that of the Texas governor.
"Governor Bush selected someone who without question is fully ready to be president," said Bush spokesperson Scott McClellan. It was a decision based on Cheney's leadership and governing skills, said McClellan, "not on politics."
But supporters of abortion rights within the GOP feel Bush succumbed to conservative forces within the party in choosing Cheney, who received a grade of "F" from the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) for his 10 year voting record in the House of Representatives. According to NARAL, Cheney as a Wyoming congressman cast 27 votes on abortion and reproductive rights, 26 of which were "anti-choice votes."
"Bush's selection of Cheney highlights his strong anti-choice position," said Alice Germond, NARAL executive vice president.
Since his selection, Cheney has stood by his voting past on Capitol Hill.
"Certainly, I do have a conservative record, but I'm proud of it," he said on CNN's Larry King Live on Tuesday night.
At the same, Cheney said while he remains opposed to abortion under all circumstances, he added he'd be willing to go along with Bush's position, which does allow for abortion under certain exceptions - such as rape, incest, or when the life of the mother is at risk.
And adopting Bush's line on the divisive issue, Cheney added he could accept other views on abortion within the Republican Party, said it should not be a major issue in the fall, and predicted it would not be a particularly important issue against Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore, who supports abortion rights.
"I don't believe it ought to be the defining issue for our party," he concluded.
While a NARAL spokesperson said Cheney could not have a "more conservative voting record," Ann Stone, the leader of the pro-abortion rights group Republicans for Choice, expressed hope that Cheney's perceived moderation on other issues may bode well for them.
"He's not the worst person to have been chosen," said Stone, who added she has met both Cheney and his wife.
While disappointed by Cheney's selection, Stone said Bush could still demonstrate he sincerely seeks to unify his party by supporting the removal of language in the GOP platform that calls for a constitutional amendment to abolish abortion, or by accepting new platform language that accommodates Republicans on both sides of the issue.
"We got word through sources not to lose heart over this selection," said Stone. Without naming specific persons, she said people associate with the Bush campaign "told us to think creatively."
Though political experts said voters rarely choose a candidate on the basis of a single issue, the selection of Cheney could have also an impact on the so-called "gender gap."
Karen Raye, executive director of Wish List, a group that raises money for female Republican candidates who support abortion rights, thinks the issue played a role in Bush's selection of Cheney - and she worries about the chance of a backlash among women voters.
"Obviously we think Dick Cheney's a good man," said Raye. Like Stone, she said Bush has one more chance to prove himself by making an effort change the anti-abortion rights language in the GOP platform.
"What I really want to see is some movement from him," she said.
But the Bush campaign said the governor's position on the platform has not changed. "He respects those with differing views but he does not believe the platform should be changed," said McClellan.
That will mean a second dose of disappointing news to Bush supporters like Stone and Raye, who believe the ticket will suffer as a result.
"We believe this is Bush creating a unity ticket that only unifies one-third of the party," said Stone.