(WOMENSENEWS)–Today, much of the nation is focused on the uncertain outcome of a war with Iraq. I share those anxieties and am also increasingly concerned by the course of the Republican Party in the 2004 election campaign.

Whatever the outcome of events abroad, pragmatic Republican leaders know they are on a collision course with the overwhelming majority of the electorate. Yet they allow an extreme religious right faction of the party to playbullyboy within our ranks, as documented by this week’s two-part series in Women’s eNews, when it comes to one of our most basic freedoms–the right of women to make their own reproductive choices. The fact is, even among those whom they believe they are catering to–self-identified “pro-lifers”–almost 50 percent believe that women should be able to make their own reproductive health decisions, according to a recent American Viewpoint survey.

A founding principle of the GOP is that the strength of our nation lies with the individual, and that each person’s dignity and freedom must be honored. If the GOP is to wear the mantle of Lincoln, as President George W. Bush has advocated, it must become more mindful of these original tenets. The party that believes that those who are governed least are governed best must also remember that it is also the party which once fostered Roe v. Wade, an opinion authored by Justice Harry Blackmun, an appointee of Republican President Nixon.

A Generation of Women Are Accustomed to Reproductive Autonomy

American women of reproductive (and voting) age have grown up in an era where they can make decisions about their reproductive health privately, in consultation with their doctors, their families and their spiritual advisers, without government interference. And, whatever their decision, they can receive qualified medical treatment, not back alley butchering. As Justices O’Connor, Kennedy and Souter observed over a decade ago, “The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.” To roll back that right would irreparably rend our social fabric.

It would also roll back the favorable Republican tide evident since 1994. In the recent elections the “gender gap” continued to be a serious problem for the GOP despite its admirable focus on other “women’s issues” like education. That gap was not an issue, however, in New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Hawaii, where voters decisively elected pro-choice Republicans as their next governors, and in Maine, where voters overwhelmingly reelected a pro-choice Republican Senator, Susan Collins.

The margin of support in the U.S. Senate for a woman’s right to decide on her own reproductive health rests in the hands of a small number of pro-choice Republican senators, including Lincoln Chafee, Susan Collins, Olympia Snowe, Lisa Murkowski and Arlen Specter. This group of sensible and steadfast Republicans can be counted upon to maintain the delicate balance of the Supreme Court and avoid turning back the clock on women’s health issues.

Now more than ever, Republican moderates who believe in the freedom to choose, who also believe in GOP core values such as limited government, a strong national defense, fiscal conservatism and educated communities, must speak out to ensure that our party once again becomes the party of tolerance, inclusion, individual rights and personal responsibility. Otherwise, the GOP will suffer dire political consequences among voting American women and men–far beyond 2004.

Jennifer Blei Stockman is the National Co-Chair of the Republican Pro-Choice Coalition.

For more information:

Republican Pro-Choice Coalition:

Also see Women’s eNews, January 19, 2003
“Roe v. Wade at 30: Dreams and Predictions”: