July 18, 2000
GWEN IFILL: For any candidate running for President, abortion is the issue that never seems to go away. Not for the Republican candidate, who opposes abortion rights...
BERNARD SHAW: Governor Bush, if you could write a two-sentence amendment to the United States Constitution on abortion, what would it be?
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: It would be that every child born and unborn should be protected in the law, and every child should be welcomed in life. I believe it's important for our party to maintain our pro-life position. I believe it's important for the next President to recognize good people can disagree on this issue. So the next President must elevate the issue of life to convince people of the preciousness of life, not only for the young, but for the elderly, as well. I'm a pro-life candidate, and I have been a pro-life governor.
GWEN IFILL: ...And not for the Democrat, who supports abortion rights.
JIM LEHRER: How important do you think the abortion issue should be in this campaign?
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: Well, given the fact that whoever is elected President will probably be appointing three justices of the Supreme Court, maybe more, and shaping the opinion of the Supreme Court for the next 30 to 40 years on the issue of a woman's right to choose, civil rights and other issues... I think that it's very important. There's no question that there's a pretty clear contrast between my position and Governor Bush's position. I support a woman's right to choose, and I will not have it undermined or weakened or taken away.
GWEN IFILL: As Bush and Gore prepare to name their running mates, activists on both sides of the abortion issue are hoping to seize the initiative. Republicans have long battled among themselves over abortion. Potential running mates like Governors Tom Ridge of Pennsylvania, Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey, and retired General Colin Powell, all favor abortion rights. But conservatives within the GOP, led in the past by Pat Buchanan, have said such a position should be a disqualifier. A Catholic group calling itself Priests for Life announced today it will buy ads in newspapers and on television demanding that opposition to abortion be considered a political litmus test. Governor Bush is the target of liberal criticism as well. Planned parenthood has begun running this national television ad.
ANNOUNCER: He agrees he's the most anti- abortion governor in America, and supports a constitutional amendment that would take away our right to choose. Does that sound compassionate or responsible? Get the facts and decide for yourself.
GWEN IFILL: In a new CBS News poll released yesterday, 38% of those who say they support Bush, also said he should pick a running mate who opposes abortion. But Bush is already assured the Republican nomination. Among all voters in the same poll, 59% said if Bush chooses a running mate who supports abortion, it would make no difference.
GWEN IFILL: Now, more on the politics of abortion and the effect it will have on this year's elections. Gloria Feldt is the President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. Carol Tobias is the director of the National Right to Life Political Action Committee.
GWEN IFILL: Carol Tobias, is abortion really going to be a big issue this year or is it just a knee-jerk thrust that we assume that every four years?
CAROL TOBIAS: There is a certain segment of the population that truly does care about this issue, and it is going to be an issue for them. In 1992, 13% of the voters said that abortion was one of their top two issues. In 1996, it was 12% of the voters. So certainly there is a large segment out there who really care about this issue.
GWEN IFILL: Does that make it a big deal, Gloria Feldt?
GLORIA FELDT: I think that this is going to be one of the defining issues as we get closer to November 7. The candidates begin to sound more and more like each other as they each try to appeal to the broad middle when they go through the campaign period. But on the issue of abortion, and it's not just abortion, I don't think the abortion issue is just about abortion. I think it's just the tip of a whole ideological iceberg that involves family planning, medically accurate sexuality education, the whole issue of who should be making these personal and private childbearing decisions, the individual or the government. It's all part of a much bigger issue, and I think it can be a defining issue, and certainly for the compassionate conservative women who we've identified as a very important voting group, it is a very salient issue that can turn their vote one way or the other.
GWEN IFILL: Carol Tobias, define compassionate conservative women; using Gloria's definition, that means Republican women. Do they really exist, and can they tip the balance in an election like this?
CAROL TOBIAS: There are Republicans that support abortion, but there are actually more Democrats who oppose abortion, so it's going to be playing one way for one group, but one for another. Gloria mentioned the candidates speaking to a broader audience, and that is where I truly believe that George Bush has the advantage. George Bush believes that taxpayers should not have to pay for abortions with their tax dollars. He thinks parents should be involved if their minor daughter is considering an abortion. He certainly opposes the partial-birth abortion procedure. Al Gore is on the other end. He does support tax funding of abortion. He doesn't think parents should be involved. He does support partial-birth abortions. So he's got a very extreme position that is going to make it difficult for him to reach out to those who may be concerned or interested in this issue, but it's not a defining issue for them.
GWEN IFILL: George W. Bush, you have to look hard to find what he has to say about abortion in any case. The National Review called his stand "friendly non- involvement." Are you disappointed? Do you wish he would make abortion a more central issue?
CAROL TOBIAS: I think he's doing a great job. George Bush has taken a strong position in support of protecting unborn children. We're very pleased with that. I think he's doing a great job on his campaign of working with this issue.
GWEN IFILL: How about Al Gore, Gloria Feldt? Does it help him to make abortion a central issue, even if you define it as broadly as you're attempting to and saying it's all about people's choice about a number of personal issues. Do you think it helps him to make abortion a central issue, especially if Democrats oppose it?
GLORIA FELDT: Since the Supreme Court is now hanging by a one-vote thread in terms of its upholding the basic fundamentals of our right to choose, and in reality, it's kind of... This last decision was more like a 4-4-1.
GWEN IFILL: You're talking about the abortion ban.
GLORIA FELDT: The Nebraska case, the abortion ban case from Nebraska, in which one of the justices who wrote a concurring opinion said, but if you write it differently, I would find it constitutional, I think it's become clear how important the President of the United States is, because the President, after all, does appoint those justices, and even though this last case was about abortion, it was about, again, so much more. It was about whether a legislature or the doctors ought to be able to make medical judgments about what's in the best interest of the health of the woman. And you have to remember that the legal and constitutional underpinnings of "Roe V. Wade," which made abortion legal, are exactly the same legal and constitutional underpinnings of "Griswold V. Connecticut" that made birth control legal all over this country. So we are talking about much more. I think that Vice President Gore could do a lot better for himself if he spoke more broadly about these issues and really brought them to the forefront because they do affect every woman, man, and family in this country.
GWEN IFILL: Are you talking about the Supreme Court decisions or do you interpret the balance of the Supreme Court the same way?
CAROL TOBIAS: Gloria is trying to broaden the recent Supreme Court decision... She was even bringing in family planning, contraceptives. The Supreme Court ruled that the state of Nebraska could not ban one particular procedure, a partial-birth abortion, in which a child is delivered all by the head, stabbed in the back of the head with the scissors, opened up to create a hole so the brain could be suctioned out. Then you have a dead baby. The Supreme Court said states cannot restrict that procedure. 75% of the people in this country oppose that procedure think it should be banned. Al Gore is on the wrong side, and I think if abortion is an issue in this election, it's going to be partial-birth abortion, because that has become the debate in this country for the past four or five years, when you talk about abortion, it has been forecast. And that's going to hurt Al Gore.
GLORIA FELDT: The central ruling of the court in this instance was that a state cannot disqualify a woman's health, that a woman's health must be considered...
CAROL TOBIAS: Except George W. Bush...
GLORIA FELDT: George W. Bush approves of ... supports a constitutional amendment to outlaw abortion and makes no exception for the health of the woman. That is a big deal. That is a big deal.
GWEN IFILL: Let's talk about the Vice Presidential selection. That's what's looming right now. We're trying to decide whether, especially George W. Bush is going to be able to decide to pick someone who supports abortion rights and still survive as a Republican nominee. What do you think about that?
CAROL TOBIAS: I think George Bush should pick a pro-life running mate because that would be consistent with his message. I'm waiting for someone to ask Al Gore if he's going to select a pro- life Democrat as his running mate.
GWEN IFILL: Let me follow up first on what you said. Do you think if he picked a Tom Ridge, would that be a problem? Would he lose voters?
CAROL TOBIAS: I think a lot of people would be very concerned. He would be sending mixed messages to the conservative base and the Republican Party.
GWEN IFILL: How many Democrats would al gore lose if he were to look high and low and find himself a Democratic running mate who didn't support abortion rights?
GLORIA FELDT: I think that the choice of the vice Presidential running mate is not the big deal that is been made right now. Quite frankly, it is the President in either case, whether it's Bush or Gore, it is the President who appoints members to the Supreme Court. It is the President who puts forth an agenda. It is the President who signs or vetoes bills. So in my view, while it's been an interesting speculation that's been going on, on both sides I think, truth be known, it's really the President who is the key person here.
GWEN IFILL: So if George W. Bush were to run with an abortion... anti-abortion running mate and he also is anti-abortion and he were to be elected, that wouldn't bother you at all?
GLORIA FELDT: It would bother me a great deal because a woman's right to choose would be totally at risk, but I don't think the Vice Presidential candidate makes the difference in that equation. It's the man who is running for President.
GWEN IFILL: Carol Tobias, what happens with your argument if George W. Bush... There's an Associated Press survey which came out today which showed that half of the delegates to the Republican convention said even if he picks an abortion rights running mate, they don't care, it's okay by them. There seems to be some undercurrent in the Republican Party that George W. Bush can basically do whatever he wants and it's fine by them. Is it fine by you?
CAROL TOBIAS: I think there's a lot of speculation about something that, you know, we're going to know about in another week, week and a half. And we have not been focusing that much attention on it. Certainly, like I said, we've been encouraging Governor Bush to select a pro-life running mate, but there's more important things we're doing, focusing on the unborn child and encouraging people to take that into account when they vote this November.
GWEN IFILL: Does abortion in the end move voters? Does it move committed voters on either side? Would they actually switch votes based on a candidate's view of abortion? Are you going out on a limb by trying to get voters based on that issue, Gloria Feldt?
GLORIA FELDT: Well, what we found in our polling and focus groups is that with women, this group of Republican and independent women who begin predisposed to vote for Republican candidates in general and are predisposed to vote for George W. Bush, once they learn of his positions on abortion, family planning and sexuality education, they move away from him very quickly, and that's why we feel it is so important to with able to get the facts to people, just the facts. That's all it takes. We don't have to do nasty attack ads or grainy pictures. We just need to give people the information, and there is a very substantial group of women for whom this is a fundamental human rights, civil rights issue, and it will move their vote.
GWEN IFILL: And what are the votes you need to move in this election to support your point of view?
CAROL TOBIAS: We're going to get the pro-life vote out. In election after election you can look at election polls and post election polling. There are a certain number of people in this country who are going to vote on the issue of abortion. The pro-life voters always outnumber our opponents. That has been an advantage for pro-life candidates. I have no doubt that will continue this year. As for the pro-choice Republican woman who, you know, Gloria's group is trying to pull away from George Bush, I think they're going to find him very acceptable because they do support some limits on abortion. Again, the tax funding, parental involvement, partial birth abortion, those are very good issues for George Bush that are going to hurt Al Gore.
GWEN IFILL: Carol Tobias and Gloria Feldt, thanks very much.