The Republican Platform Committee continues to wrestle with words in San Diego as they confront what promises to be the prickliest issue of the convention: abortion. Jeffrey Kaye has a report.
JEFFREY KAYE: Yesterday, Platform Committee meetings got underway as 107 delegates worked to compose a statement of principles for the Republican Party. They came ready for a battle over abortion. Abortion rights activists want the party to abandon its anti-abortion stance.
SPOKESMAN: Tell us how the Republican vision--
JEFFREY KAYE: Congressman Henry Hyde, the chairman of the Platform Committee, came with a compromise proposal worked out with Bob Dole. That plan was to keep the anti-abortion language but to express tolerance for diverse views on abortion. The tolerance proposal was attacked by anti-abortion forces who threatened a convention floor fight unless that language was removed.
RALPH REED, Christian Coalition: The pro-family movement is united in opposing an abortion specific tolerance plank.
JEFFREY KAYE: In the late afternoon, while the subcommittee tackling the abortion issue met behind closed doors, anti-abortion leaders conferred amongst themselves and by telephone with Bob Dole and his staff. As the subcommittee got ready to reconvene, it appeared a deal had been struck.
SPOKESPERSON: We welcome you back from committee--
JEFFREY KAYE: Without any debate, the panel voted in amendments that stripped the platform of any reference to tolerance.
SPOKESPERSON: Is there any discussion on this? If not, I will call for the question. All those in favor say, aye.
SPOKESPERSON: Opposed? (no response) The amendment will be part of the platform.
JEFFREY KAYE: It adopted virtually the same anti-abortion language as was in the 1992 platform but contained within the new abortion plank is a remnant of the Dole proposal, a statement that reads: "We recognize that members of our party have deeply held and sometimes differing views. We view this diversity of views as a source of strength, not as a sign of weakness. And we welcome into our ranks all Americans who may hold differing positions." But in the subcommittee, one differing position was not welcome.
SPOKESMAN: We feel that this abortion plank should not be a part of this Republican platform.
JEFFREY KAYE: Calling himself a pro-choice Republican, delegate Walter Freed of Vermont tried to strip out the abortion language altogether.
SPOKESPERSON: All those in favor please raise their hand. (show of hands) All those opposed please raised their hands. (plurality of hands going up)
JEFFREY KAYE: Freed's motion failed by a vote of twenty-one to four. After all was said and done, everyone, except the anti-abortion forces, claimed victory. Even though the tolerance language he had supported was deleted, Congressman Hyde said he was delighted with the outcome of the vote.
REP. HENRY HYDE, (R) Illinois: It does two things: It ratifies and confirms the pro-life position of the Republican Party and our candidate, Bob Dole. At the same time, it expresses welcome and recognition for those Republicans who do not accept our pro-life position but, nonetheless, ought to remain good Republicans.
GARY BAUER, Family Research Council: I don't think anybody has given on anything here that goes to core principles, and I think now the focus can get on the fact that the guy in the White House is unwilling to regulate any abortion, whether it's for sex selections or eighth month abortions, and that is a radical extremist position.
JEFFREY KAYE: Delegate Freed gracefully accepted defeat.
JEFFREY KAYE: Do you think there should be a floor fight now?
WALTER FREED, Vermont Delegate: I don't believe that there should be a floor fight. I think we had our opportunity to bring our issue forth and to speak to it in the committee. And from my perspective, we represent a lot of pro-choice Republicans out there, but the important this is to not make, from my perspective, not make this the overriding issue of this campaign and this convention. There's just too many other important issues out there.
JEFFREY KAYE: But abortion rights advocate Ann Stone of Republicans for Choice was not so forgiving.
ANN STONE, Republicans for Choice: This was not a free and open debate. This did not represent the true majority of the Republican Party, but it's the opening salvo. I mean, we go to the full committee. Then we see whether or not we want to go to the floor. This is rather bizarre.
JEFFREY KAYE: Stone and other pro-choice Republicans are still holding out the possibility of a floor fight over the abortion issue. This morning, Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich said he expected no floor fight over abortion. When reporters pressed him on the party's division on the issue, he maintained the party is open and diverse.
REP. NEWT GINGRICH, Speaker of the House: When you become a majority, a natural majority is about 160 million people. Now 160 million Americans is really hard to lead. And you have lots of arguments about lots of topics.
JEFFREY KAYE: This afternoon, the full Platform Committee began voting on the platform issue by issue.