Kellie Rose Ferguson

(WOMENSENEWS)–The preamble in the Republican platform to be ratified by the convention Monday includes language described as “open-door.” Some party moderates see as the addition as a first baby step in a long journey towards changing their party’s unbending, no-exceptions anti-abortion stance.

Others believe that those who negotiated for the inclusion of the more tolerant preamble have been used by the party becausethe actual platform calls for more limits on abortion, including declaring the party would support only anti-choice judicial candidates.

The pro-preamble moderates remain cautiously optimistic even though the platform committee approved the final draft on Thursday that held on to the rigid anti-choice language that has existed in the GOP platform for decades, confirming pro-choice advocates’ fears that the current threats to reproductive choice would continue.

In a vote of 74 to 18 on Wednesday night the platform committee voted to change the existing language of the preamble to include four lines acknowledging the party members’ diverse beliefs. The language reads:

“As the party of the open door, while we are steadfast in our commitment to our ideals, we respect and accept that members of our party have deeply held and sometimes differing views. This diversity is a source of strength, not a sign of weakness, and so we welcome into our ranks all who may hold differing positions. We commit to resolve our differences with civility, trust and mutual respect, and to affirm the common goals and beliefs that unite us.”

The preamble concession occurred after groups such as Republicans for Choice based in Alexandria, Va., had pushed for a so-called “unity platform,” which would recognize diverse viewpoints and would specifically mention “abortion, family planning and gay and lesbian issues” as points of contention.

The preamble’s inclusive language was a result of a joint proposal by pro-choice Republican Steve Cloud, the national committee representative from Kansas, and Indiana’s anti-choice representative, Jim Bopp, who serves as general counsel of the Washington-based National Right to Life.

This was the first time such a pairing had lobbied for language that recognizes diverse opinions, said Kellie Rose Ferguson, executive director of Republican Majority for Choice in Washington, D.C.

“The most positive thing was both sides working together to come up with common-ground language,” she said. “The words in the debate were even more significant than the words in the eventual platform.”

Cut Off From Platform Process

Yet both moderates and conservatives complained that they were more cut off from the platform process this year than ever before. For the first time, the platform draft was handed out to advocacy group and members of Congress on Tuesday night–less than 24 hours before the final committee meetings–instead of earlier in the week. And the party also declined to disclose the names of its 110 committee members, citing security concerns.

In the past, pro-choice organizations such as Republican Majority for Choice and Planned Parenthood Federation of America, have attended preliminary hearings all over the country several months before each convention to encourage Republican platform delegates to take into consideration the diverse views of their constituents. But over the past decade, such hearings have dwindled, and this year they disappeared altogether, leaving pro-choice advocates feeling shut out of the negotiation process.

Even an e-mail link on the Republican National Convention Web site that invited Republicans to submit suggestions to the platform committee failed to convince most advocacy groups that the party was really welcoming outside perspectives.

“The moderates were shut out from the beginning,” said Darlee Crockett, national co-chair of Republicans for Choice, a division of Planned Parenthood. Pro-choice groups were largely operating on the assumption that a change in abortion language was unrealistic, she said, calling such efforts “an exercise in futility.”

Conservatives Mobilized

Since 1973, when Roe v. Wade established abortion as protected within the constitutional right to privacy and mandated that states allow abortions if a woman’ health or life was threatened, conservative groups have become progressively more mobilized in their anti-choice efforts. In response, pro-choice advocates within the Republican Party have had to fight ever harder to be heard.

Whereas “equal pay for equal work” was the battle cry of the women’s movement at the 1972 party conventions, by 1976 abortion had joined the spotlight. At the Republican convention that year, Rep. Millicent Fenwick of New Jersey made headlines with her struggle to keep anti-abortion language out of the party platform, arguing abortion was a personal matter not to be governed by the state or the White House.

“That was probably the last legitimate battle on the issue,” said Tanya Melich, a New York-based political analyst and author of the 1998 book, The Republican War Against Women: An Insider’s Report from Behind the Lines. “The selection and development of issues (at the conventions) are no longer about debates, no longer give-and-take.”

The platform language this year upholds the restrictions of 2000, when George W. Bush’s campaign oversaw the inclusion of the most restrictive language ever written on reproductive choice, according to Crockett. That platform declared that “the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed.” It championed changes to the Constitution to clarify that right and said the party would oppose using public revenues for abortions and organizations that advocate it. There was no mention of any exception for cases of rape, incest or extreme danger to the mother’s life or health.

Yet in some instances the new platform is even more extreme and goes further than Bush’s official stance, Ferguson said. For example, she noted, the president has not advocated an abortion-rights litmus test of federal judges, but the platform pledges support to judges who defend “the sanctity of human life” by opposing abortion.

Ferguson and others are optimistic that the language of the preamble is a positive step towards building a dialogue between party members with conflicting social views. But they are quick to acknowledge that the gain is minimal, at best.

“We’re very disappointed in the language,” Ferguson said. The preamble “may be a little too little, a little too late.”

Crockett hopes that the public will see what she calls the disturbing contrast between the platform’s “totally conservative language,” and the moderate face of this week’s national convention, where headlining speakers include such pro-choice Republicans as New York Governor George E. Pataki, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.

And there are those who identify another emerging contrast: that between a pro-choice stance and support of the Bush administration.

Author Melich fears that pro-choice organizations who continue to endorse the President are being “played by the administration.” In the current political atmosphere, she argues, the base issue for those groups should be reproductive choice, not party affiliation.

Robin Hindery is a recent graduate of the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, and a writer for Women’s eNews in New York City.

For more information:

2004 Republican National Convention:

The Republican Majority for Choice:

See also: Women’s eNews two-part series on
The Republican Party and Right to Life By Cynthia L. Cooper

Mar 18, 2003

Part 2: Republican Party Donates to Right to Life

Mar 16, 2003

Anti-Choice Group Fights Campaign Finance Reform

Note: Women’s eNews is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites and the contents of Web pages we link to may change without notice.