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Giuliani’s foes see abortion as chink in armor

Times Staff Writer

Faced with the durability of Rudolph W. Giuliani’s lead in the Republican presidential race, his rivals are stoking new debate on whether the party should accept a White House nominee who favors abortion rights.

If he prevails, the former New York mayor would be the party’s first White House nominee in a generation to support abortion rights during his campaign. But Giuliani has used increasingly nuanced, even tortured, language in recent days to minimize resistance to his candidacy among antiabortion Republicans.

At a debate Thursday, he said he “hates” abortion but also defended his support for taxpayer-funded abortions in New York as a state prerogative.

He also said it would be “OK” for courts to uphold Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that found a right to abortion, and “OK” for a court to overturn it, leaving the issue to the states.

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This week, reports surfaced anew that Giuliani had donated $900 during the 1990s to Planned Parenthood, the nation’s leading abortion provider. The reports, in turn, led the top campaign strategist for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to suggest Tuesday that Giuliani’s position was unacceptable for a Republican standard-bearer.

“He’s well outside the mainstream of rank-and-file Republicans on this issue, not only as someone who is pro-abortion, but someone who has supported one of the most radical pro-abortion groups in the country,” John Weaver, the McCain strategist, said in a telephone interview.

Weaver’s remarks came a day after McCain had said it would be tough for a Republican who favored abortion rights to win the nomination.

“I think it’s one of the fundamental principles of a conservative to have respect and commitment to the dignity of human life, both the born and unborn,” McCain told the Associated Press in Iowa.

Giuliani’s lead in public opinion surveys has raised the question of what it would mean for the party to nominate an abortion-rights supporter.

Asked if he could support such a nominee, Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.), a presidential candidate and steadfast abortion opponent, said in last week’s debate: “I could, because I believe in the Ronald Reagan principle that somebody that’s with you 80% of the time is not your enemy; that’s your friend and that’s our ally.”

The abortion credentials of potential Republican White House contender Fred Thompson came into question Tuesday when a survey filled out by his 1994 Senate campaign surfaced on the Internet. It said Thompson supported a woman’s right to abortion in the first three months of pregnancy.

“That questionnaire was filled out by a campaign staffer without Fred’s knowledge,” said Mark Corallo, a spokesman for the former Tennessee senator. “As you can see, he has voted in every instance along pro-life lines.”

Some Republicans who are urging Thompson to run see him as a more ideologically pure conservative than the leading contenders in the race, citing, among other things, his anti-abortion Senate record.

Polls show that Republicans strongly favor banning abortion with few or no exceptions. For months, strategists of both major parties have debated whether Republicans would overlook Giuliani’s stand on abortion if they viewed him as the best qualified candidate overall.

He has defied the expectations of many that his support would drop sharply as voters became familiar with his history of liberal stands on abortion and other social issues.

Giuliani’s major rivals, all of whom oppose abortion rights, see wider knowledge of his breach with party orthodoxy on abortion as crucial to their own advancement.

This week, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is highlighting his conversion from abortion-rights supporter in his home-state campaigns to “pro-life” candidate for president. On Thursday, Romney plans to make his first public campaign speech to an antiabortion group, the Pioneer Valley chapter of Massachusetts Citizens for Life.

Kevin Jourdain, the chairman of the group’s dinner honoring Romney, said Giuliani “really needs to study this issue more.”

“He’s on the wrong side of this one, and I hope that he too will have a conversion experience,” Jourdain said.

Giuliani, a Roman Catholic, has had difficulty navigating abortion politics without offending either side. Running for mayor in the 1980s and 1990s, he spoke out when opponents questioned his commitment to abortion rights.

A 1989 video, watched by more than 155,000 viewers on YouTube, shows Giuliani saying that poor women should not be denied taxpayer-paid abortions.

In response to Weaver’s attack on Giuliani, Anthony Carbonetti, a senior advisor to the former mayor, echoed McCain’s statement Monday that Republicans would ultimately “judge a candidate on all of his or her resume and record and vision.”

For three decades, opposition to abortion has been a potent issue for candidates in Republican primaries.

Last year, a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll found that 68% of Republicans favored banning abortion in all cases or with exceptions for rape, incest or the endangerment of a mother’s life. Among all voters, 51% took those positions.

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michael.finnegan@latimes.com


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