CAMPAIGN '96 - ABORTION PLANK
JUNE 11, 1996
Candidate Dole and the politics of abortion. Margaret Warner has the story.
MARGARET WARNER: Abortion is a potentially explosive issue for Republicans this year. The 1992 party platform called for a constitutional amendment banning abortion, and pro-life forces within the party want the '96 platform to remain the same, but pro-choice Republicans, including some powerful governors, have threatened a convention fight unless the anti-abortion plank is struck or radically amended. Last Thursday, Bob Dole tried to defuse the issue. In an interview with ABC's Peter Jennings, he expressed support for adding some conciliatory language on the issue.
SEN. ROBERT DOLE: Republican Presidential Candidate: My view is that I want to bring people into the party, not keep people out of the party. I don't want to build a fence around our party and say everybody has to agree with me on this issue. I happen to be pro-life. And I've tried to explain to some of the pro-life people if we're going to win elections and build our party, we can have different views on this issue. And that'll be my hope when I determine precisely what that plank should be.
MS. WARNER: Later that evening, the Dole campaign released a statement suggesting that the platform would include a "declaration of tolerance for divergent points of view." Aides said that the so-called tolerance language would be in the overall preamble to the platform, not in the abortion plank, itself. Many anti-abortion leaders were quoted as saying that was acceptable to them. And for a while, it looked like the argument had been defused. But yesterday in an interview with CNN, Senator Dole weighed in again.
SEN. DOLE: It has been resolved. I think I make that decision. It's not negotiable. It's the decision, and that's going to be in the plank. And it's probably going to be in the abortion plank, not in the preamble. It seems to me if you want to make it clear to the people out there that we're tolerant, make it--this is a moral issue. It's not like all the other things in the platform, and it ought to be right up there where people can see it.
MS. WARNER: Now two perspectives. Ann Stone is chairman of Republicans for Choice. Phyllis Schlafly is chairman of the Republican National Coalition for Life. Ms. Schlafly, give us your reaction to Sen. Dole's statement yesterday.
PHYLLIS SCHLAFLY, Republican National Coalition for Life: (St. Louis) Well, it's really amazing. He changed his mind over a couple of days. Last week he indicated that he was for the text just as it has been in the last three Republican National Conventions, and then yesterday he wants to water it down by putting in a statement that indicates that we're equivocal about it. And the pro-lifers who have supported Bob Dole are not willing to have that statement watered down or made ambivalent. It's, it's very unfortunate that he has reopened this controversy after we thought he had cooled it. Over the weekend, he had kind of conciliatory statements from both Christine Whitman and Pat Buchanan, and now he's opened it up, and I think that's really very unfortunate because I'm convinced that the majority of the delegates to the Republican Convention will be pro-life and as you pointed out in your statement, it is the handful of pro-abortion governors who seem determined to precipitate a fight.
MS. WARNER: All right. Let me just be clear here. So you're saying if he had stuck with just his statement of last week or what his aides said that this statement would be in the overall preamble to the platform, that would have been fine with you.
MS. SCHLAFLY: Yes, because it is a fact that Republicans are very divided on a lot of issues, including trade, taxes, SDI, immigration, and so forth. And that is a fact.
MS. WARNER: All right. Let me get Ann Stone on this. Now what's your reaction to this?
ANN STONE, Republicans for Choice: Well, in response to what Phyllis has just said, this is "the" only issue in the platform that the majority in the party is on one side, and the platform is on the other. None of those other issues that you mentioned is there that kind of dichotomy. In terms of this whole debate over preamble versus plank, Dole was always clear that it was going to be in the plank, I thought, and I think Christie Todd Whitman thought so as well. And the fact that we would have people, you know, lashing out at Bob Dole and accusing him of selling out, or accusing him of diluting, you know, his position and not really being pro-life for doing this, this is a silly debate. This is Ronald Reagan's plank for 1980. That's really what we're talking about here, and they're, they're, you know, absolutely tearing Bob Dole apart over this, and yet we're talking about Ronald Reagan's language. It's not exactly a radical position for him to take.
MS. WARNER: Ms. Schlafly, what about that? Why does it matter so much where this language is?
MS. SCHLAFLY: Well, it matters what, what the language means. If it means we're tolerant about the killing of unborn babies, that really isn't acceptable, and we don't want to go back 16 years. Millions of Americans have come into the Republican Party since 1980. Bob Dole is Majority Leader, and Newt Gingrich is Speaker of the House because of the enormous influx of pro-life voters in 1994. We had tremendous victories, and we don't want to turn those people away. They're very important. There are not enough just Republicans to elect a President. Abortion is, is an issue that attracts people, and of those who care about this issue, they vote pro-life two to one. We need all those votes, and we want to welcome them into the party.
MS. STONE: Margaret, I mean, Phyllis is just flat out wrong. The lesson of '92 was when we fight over a platform on an issue like this, we lose. The lesson of '94 was we weren't fighting over a platform. We were united by a Contract with America that dealt with everything but the social issues--
MS. WARNER: You mean '94, you're talking about.
MS. STONE: It brought the party together. Did I say '92?
MS. WARNER: Yes.
MS. STONE: Yeah, '94. We were united by the Contract with America that left the social issues out. It wasn't millions of pro-life voters coming into the party in '94 that gave us a Republican governing majority. It was the party came together, and those who left in '92 came back and made the difference.
MS. SCHLAFLY: Well, anybody who thinks that it was the contract that elected all those Republicans I think doesn't understand where the votes come from. They were, they were pro-life voters who came in and voted for those pro-life Republican Congressmen, and they were pro-life two to one. And, of course, there wasn't any controversy in 1992, except in the media. The convention was practically united. The platform plank was, the platform was adopted on a voice vote without any kind of controversy, and it will be that way again unless the pro-abortion governors decide to make it a fight.
MS. WARNER: All right. Let's go back to what Senator Dole has said, and let's look forward here. Are you and the pro-choice forces satisfied, Ms. Stone, with the statement Sen. Dole has made, with having this tolerance language in the platform plank?
MS. STONE: Yes, we're satisfied that this is a good first step. This is an open, conciliatory statement much like the kinds of statements that Bob Dole made as he was leaving the Senate today. He showed himself to be a bridge builder, somebody who wants to unite the country, wants to unite our party, and this is a good first step. We appreciate the fact that he's welcoming the majority back into the party, but we do have to go beyond this, and for his own sake, and we are very concerned about keeping the human life amendment in the platform as we look to fall because I think Bill Clinton laid out his strategy will be a fight over should there be a constitutional amendment or not, and that--
MS. WARNER: You're talking about an amendment to outlaw abortion?
MS. STONE: Right. Outlaw abortion, and if that is the discussion in the fall campaign, Bob Dole will lose that discussion. Once people understand what such an amendment would include, it would be a real problem for us.
MS. WARNER: So you--Ms. Schlafly, let me just ask you, now what are you and the pro-life forces going to do about what Sen. Dole--you heard him, he said, "I think I make that decision"--where do you go from here?
MS. SCHLAFLY: Well, I think he will find that the decision is made by the delegates to the convention in San Diego and the platform committee, and they will be overwhelmingly pro-life. And I think possibly a majority of them will be more pro-life than they are pro Bob Dole. So if there is a fight in San Diego, the fight will be started by the pro-abortion governors who are determined to divide the party over this issue. If they want to help Bob Dole get elected, they can unite with the majority of the Republicans in San Diego and let the platform plank be the same as it was in '84, '88, and '92.
MS. WARNER: But Ms. Schlafly, Sen. Dole, himself, said he wants this change in the language. Are you prepared to go forward and fight him, the presumed nominee of the party?
MS. SCHLAFLY: The pro-lifers will fight for the same language that we have--the beautiful language that we have been so successful with in '84 and '88 and '92, when even the exit polls showed that it was a big plus for George Bush and the Republican candidates. We can't afford to throw away all those wonderful pro-lifers who have come and swelled the Republican ranks over the last few years. They're important as a vitality to the party, and it means that we're standing up for principle, and not getting in the way of principle.
MS. WARNER: All right. Let me get Ann Stone back. All right. If the anti-abortion forces stage this kind of a fight, is Ms. Schlafly right, do they have the power to go ahead and--
MS. STONE: First of all, there are no pro-abortion governors. That's a pejorative term. They're pro-choice governors. Second of all, it's quite interesting, the majority of primary voters, which are the most conservative part of the party, in the primary said they wanted out of the plank. Even large segments of the Buchanan vote said they want silence. People don't want to fight about this anymore. They want candidates to run on what their real position is, and stop this silly fight. I mean, it's silly that we're fighting now and saying that the Reagan language is too severe and too radical. That is ridiculous.
MS. WARNER: All right, but--
MS. SCHLAFLY: But all those--all those primary voters--
MS. WARNER: Ms. Stone, just a minute--Ann Stone, what about, though, what Ms. Schlafly just said, that when you're looking at the universe of delegates at that convention that they have the forces?
MS. STONE: Pro-life, there's pro-life and there's pro-life. There are people who will take the Schlafly-Buchanan stance, and there are people who say enough is enough, let's build some bridges, let's work together, that's when we win. And those are the people we're reaching out and working in coalition with. We've made tremendous progress all over this country in starting to bring the party back together by trying to work together instead of fighting over silliness.
MS. SCHLAFLY: Well, I would point out that all those pro--those primary voters in the Republican Party voted for pro-life candidates because pro-abortion candidates had to drop out; they couldn't get any support.
MS. STONE: They don't want to fight, Phyllis. You want to fight.
MS. SCHLAFLY: Oh, no.
MS. STONE: They don't want to fight.
MS. SCHLAFLY: No, no.
MS. STONE: We want constructive--
MS. SCHLAFLY: We will have the majority.
MS. STONE: Want to be constructive in the future.
MS. WARNER: Ms. Schlafly--
MS. SCHLAFLY: We will have the majority if there is a fight that is started by the pro-abortion governors.
MS. STONE: We want to be constructive.
MS. WARNER: Ladies, one at a time. Ms. Schlafly, do you--what impact do you think it has on the party's prospects, if there is such a fight, very briefly, because we're almost out of time?
MS. SCHLAFLY: Well, I think it will be very unfortunate if the pro-abortion choice governors do stimulate this fight. They tried to last time but they could only get two states to go forward with it.
MS. STONE: That's not true.
MS. SCHLAFLY: And I--they were not able to have a controversy on it, and, uh, I think they are a minority of the convention. It will be very unfortunate if they instigate a fight just for the sake of a fight.
MS. WARNER: Very briefly.
MS. STONE: Right. Phyllis, you've spread those lies since '92. We had many more than two states, but we won't go into that. We made the decision not to go forward with the fight for a lot of reasons, and they were good decisions--it was a good decision at the time.
MS. WARNER: Ladies, we'll have to leave it there.
MS. STONE: Okay.
MS. WARNER: Thanks very much.
MS. STONE: Thank you.