Abortion Foes Seek to Ease Dispute in GOP


Abortion opponents gathering here Thursday sought to defuse the roiling internal Republican dispute over the issue and shift their focus toward mobilizing efforts against President Clinton.

In marked contrast to many other social conservatives, leaders of the National Right to Life Committee meeting at their annual convention virtually shrugged their shoulders at the argument sparked by Bob Dole over whether--and where--the Republican Party platform should express “tolerance” for dissent from its call for a constitutional amendment to ban abortion.

“This is really a minor flap,” said Brian Johnston, the Sacramento-based director of the group’s Western office. “Bob Dole is pro-life. His record speaks for itself, and his record is solid.”

The Dole campaign appeared to have mollified many of the GOP leaders on different sides of the abortion debate when the candidate announced he would support adding language to the platform indicating tolerance for dissenting views on abortion and other issues. But Dole later said the tolerance clause should be inserted directly in the antiabortion plank of the platform itself. Several social conservatives bridled at that suggestion, arguing that it would unfairly single out abortion when many issues divide the GOP.


The argument is generating intense conflicts in several states, as social conservatives circulate pledges committing delegates to the party convention in San Diego to vote against any change in the platform language on abortion or the selection of a vice president who supports legal abortion.

But those attending the Right to Life group’s convention said they believed the argument over the platform has been blown out of proportion.

“I’m not saying it’s not important, but it’s symbolic--not something worth losing the presidency over,” said Don Parker, an organizer for the Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life.

David N. O’Steen, the Right to Life committee’s national executive director, said that while the group would prefer the tolerance declaration not be included in the abortion plank, it was more interested in efforts to include a similar “conscience clause” in the Democratic platform--which supports abortion rights.

“We think it’s much more important to focus on whether the Democrats have such a statement at all,” O’Steen said.

O’Steen and others at the convention suggested that Dole might stir more unrest if he selects a running mate who supports abortion rights.