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The GOP and the politics of abortion

By Bruce Morton/CNN

August 24, 1999
Web posted at: 6:17 p.m. EDT (2217 GMT)

WASHINGTON -- Arizona Sen. John McCain is the latest Republican presidential candidate to call for a more moderate stance on the controversial issue of abortion, an issue on which the Republican Party's strongly anti-abortion position has alienated some voters in the past.

"I favor the ultimate repeal of Roe v. Wade," he said Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition,." in reference to the landmark Supreme Court decision overturning abortion bans. "But we all know and it's obvious, that if we repeal Roe v. Wade tomorrow, thousands of young American women would be performing illegal and dangerous operations."

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Since that interview, McCain has been criticized for his comments and he has written a letter to anti-abortion leaders, saying he "unequivocally supports" repealing Roe vs. Wade. McCain has consistently opposed abortion during his 17 years in Congress.

But McCain now stands with Texas Gov. George W. Bush and Elizabeth Dole, who oppose abortion but talk about changing public opinion and who also oppose an abortion "litmus test" for judges.

On abortion, Bush said when he started his campaign: "We don't live in an ideal world right now, so in the meantime, it seems like to me we need a leader to bring people to understand the importance of banning partial birth abortion, of having parental notification laws."

Dole said in a campaign appearance she would "go for the most qualified people, but there's not going to be a litmus test."

Other Republican candidates disagree with that moderate tack on the issue. Multimillionaire publisher Steve Forbes would want his judges to be abortion opponents, and has courted social conservatives, but he too preaches the need to change public opinion.

"The ground is shifting in our favor, you see it on partial birth (and) parental consent. You enact these into law and use that as the foundation for the next step," Forbes said.

Gary Bauer, the former head of the conservative Family Research Council, would ban abortion now if he could.

"It is unconscionable that in 1999, one and a half million babies in America never get to take the first breath of life," he said, adding, "My judges are going to have to believe that all of our children should be welcomed into the world and protected by law."

Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan, now in his third presidential run, calls abortion is one of his key issues and has said he would leave the GOP rather than change his view. Moderate Republicans say the so-called "big tent" approach that says both sides are welcome in the GOP.

"We're the party of Abraham Lincoln, of inclusion, and not of exclusion, and I hope we can all work together and maintain a dialogue within our party as we help try to resolve this very difficult issue that affects American in such a grievous way," McCain said.


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