2000 Hopefuls Differ On Abortion
By Kathleen Hayden/AllPolitics
WASHINGTON (Jan. 19) -- In the 25 years since Roe v. Wade, the right of a woman to have an abortion has survived, despite the revolving White House door that has ushered in and out chief executives of widely varying opinions on the issue.
During his tenure, President Bill Clinton has proved a consistent supporter of abortion rights. Most prominently, he twice vetoed legislation that would outlaw certain late-term abortion procedures because it lacked a provision to protect the health, not just the life, of the mother.
But the future of the Roe decision could depend on the leaders who occupy the Oval office and appoint Supreme Court justices over the next 25 years. Which direction will the next president take the country on this controversial issue?
Here's where some of the possible presidential candidates in 2000 stand on the issue:
Vice President Al Gore
Democratic front-runner Vice President Al Gore has not always been the staunch proponent of abortion rights that he is now. In his early lawmaker days, Gore opposed federal funding of organizations that aid abortions. But since joining the Clinton ticket in 1992, Gore has backed his boss' abortion positions, including the president's veto of the late-term abortion bill. During the 1996 vice presidential debate with Republican nominee Jack Kemp, Gore said, "We will never allow a woman's right to choose to be taken away."
Missouri Rep. Dick Gephardt
Like Gore, Rep. Dick Gephardt's thinking on the issue of abortion has shifted since he entered the House. The Missouri representative began his tenure as an abortion foe, even sponsoring the Human Life Amendment to the Constitution. Through the late 1980s he straddled the issue: In 1989, he voted both to ban all abortion funding in the District of Columbia spending bill, but later voted to permit abortion funding for victims of rape and incest. Now considered a supporter of abortion rights, Gephardt still joined a minority of his party and voted for a ban on late-term abortions during the first House vote. He did not vote on the chamber's second attempt to pass the bill.
Nebraska Sen. Bob Kerrey
A moderate Democrat who ran unsuccessfully against Bill Clinton for the Democratic party's nomination in 1992, Bob Kerrey is pro-choice. Last May the senior Nebraska senator voted against legislation to end certain late-term abortions. He was among several Democrats, however, targeted by the Child Protection Fund, which saw his position as less rigid than other lawmakers'.
Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry
John Kerry represents the traditional liberal side of the Democratic Party, and has long held its corresponding pro-choice view on abortion. He has a consistent voting record on the subject, including votes against the late-term abortion ban.
Former Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander
While Lamar Alexander packaged himself during the 1996 Republican primaries as a "moderate" alternative to the likes of Pat Buchanan, since 1994 he has sought to appease the Republican Right by adopting a stricter stance on social issues like abortion. Even so, he seems to embrace the more conservative ideology tentatively. Specifically, Alexander believes the states, not the federal government, should decide whether to restrict a woman's right to abortion. The presidential candidate has always received a tepid response from the Christian Coalition, which would like Alexander to adhere more closely to its platform.
Missouri Sen. John Ashcroft
Ashcroft is known as a fierce abortion foe, and his rigid stance has made the Missouri senator well-liked by the GOP's powerful religious conservative movement. As chairman of the Senate Constitution Subcommittee, Ashcroft plans a special hearing on the subject of abortion around the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Doctors and scholars on both side of the issue will testify, but the keynote witness will be Norma McCorvey, who was "Jane Roe" in the landmark case. She has since reversed her feelings on abortion and now says she does not believe in it. "As one who is strongly committed to the pro-life position, I admire her courage in standing with those who believe that Roe vs. Wade was a tragic error by the court, with profound and ongoing consequences for the nation," Ashcroft said in advance of McCorvey's testimony. Ashcroft did favor a Republican party proposal to establish a party "litmus test" to withhold funding to candidates who do not support a ban on some late-term abortion procedures.
Texas Gov. George W. Bush
Like his father, former President George Bush, the Texas governor is anti-abortion and a staunch advocate of state abortion controls. During his first term he unsuccessfully tried to pass a bill requiring parental notification before minors can have abortions. In May 1997 he approved strengthened state regulation of facilities where abortions are performed. In his 1994 response to Project Vote Smart's National Political Aptitude Test, Bush wrote, "Best public policy is to encourage fewer abortions through strong adoption laws and giving children a clear pro-abstinence message." Bush does not support a GOP abortion "litmus test."
Red Cross President Elizabeth Dole
Though a political veteran of two cabinet posts and a very public figure during her husband Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign, much of Elizabeth Dole's politics have remained camouflaged. A deeply religious woman, Mrs. Dole often addresses her spirituality during speeches or interviews, but rarely talks about specific issues, such as abortion. A one-time Democrat, Mrs. Dole's more moderate views on subjects like affirmative action have been modified over the years to complement her husband's more conservative ones. But Mrs. Dole's faith seems to drive her anti-abortion position. When a new minister joined the Foundry Methodist Church and the Doles realized that his views were more liberal than theirs -- he was pro-abortion rights -- they switched to a more traditional Presbyterian church in Washington, in 1994. Mrs. Dole's Christian commitment also yields political dividends as she has tremendous appeal to Christian conservatives because of her activism.
Publisher Steve Forbes
Since his unsuccessful bid for the White House, Steve Forbes has been expanding his flat-tax only agenda to include more socially conservative issues. Forbes, at odds with the leaders of the religious right during his run for the Republican nomination in 1996, has been tightening his stand on abortion. At a meeting of the Christian Coalition in Atlanta last September, Forbes said, "Properly argued, I believe this issue can inspire our nation, not divide our nation. Remember life begins at conception and ends at natural death." The publishing magnate even argued for a GOP "litmus test," telling ABC's "This Week," "Instead of the shadow-boxing we did last summer, we should say to the Republicans, 'Get real or get out.'" Even so, some in the religious right think Forbes has not gone far enough because he still does not believe abortion should be illegal for victims of rape or incest and will not sign a pledge to support a constitutional amendment banning abortion.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich
Newt Gingrich has a firm record of opposing abortions except when the pregnancy resulted from incest or rape or when the life of the woman is endangered. Gingrich has also included as a top priority for the 1998 Republican legislative agenda the passage of a veto-proof ban on late-term abortions. But Gingrich has also urged his fellow Republicans not to let the issue divide the party. At the 1996 Republican convention he worked to create a compromise with pro-choice members of the party who opposed the abortion plank in the GOP platform. And at this year's Republican National Committee meeting, Gingrich made it clear he opposed an abortion "litmus test" for candidates.
Ohio Rep. John Kasich
Though Kasich has established himself as a party star through budget balancing and number crunching, he has also been true to the majority's anti-abortion position. Over the last year the Ohio Republican voted for legislation to ban certain late-term abortion procedures and discontinue federal funding of international organizations that assist in abortions. In Project Vote Smart's 1996 National Political Aptitude Test, Kasich indicated he believed abortions should be legal only when the pregnancy resulted from incest or rape or when the life of the woman is endangered and should be limited by waiting periods and notification requirements as decided by each state government.
1996 Republican Vice Presidential Nominee Jack Kemp
While sometimes bucking Republican tradition to support such ideas as affirmative action, Jack Kemp, the 1996 GOP vice presidential nominee, has maintained his opposition to abortion. When speaking on the subject, the former professional football player and New York congressman urges women to have their babies and put them up for adoption, often referencing his three grandchildren who are adopted. During the 1996 vice presidential debate Kemp categorized himself as "pro-life" and said, "We should recognize that every human life is precious, and there should be all of the protection that we can give for an unborn human being." He also called late-term abortion procedures "unacceptable" and supports a legislative ban.
Former Vice President Dan Quayle
As an advocate for "family values," Dan Quayle is a prominent abortion opponent, supporting a constitutional amendment to ban the procedure. The former vice president is expected to play up his position during his bid for the 2000 Republican nomination as he tries to mobilize Christian conservatives, who have long been his base.
Through his two failed bids for the presidency, financier Ross Perot has stayed away from the issue of abortion, concentrating more on the economy, trade and the federal deficit. When asked to comment, he maintains that the question of abortion is one a woman, not the government, should make. In his 1996 response to Project Vote Smart's National Political Aptitude Test, Perot wrote, "In a free society with a strong moral, ethical base abortions would be unthinkable. A decision to have an abortion should only be made between a woman and God. We must support counseling and education that can prevent unwanted pregnancies."