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Will GOP voters accept Giuliani's evolution on abortion?

  • Story Highlights
  • While New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani made statements supporting abortion rights
  • Now, on the campaign trail, Giuliani supports more restrictions on abortion
  • Republican presidential candidate still says he supports abortion rights
  • More restrictive views on abortion may make Giuliani acceptable to more GOP voters
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By John King
CNN Washington Bureau
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NEW YORK (CNN) -- It was 1993 and Kelli Conlin remembers her excitement as a member of Mayor-elect Rudy Giuliani's transition team.

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Rudy Giuliani expresses more anti-abortion statements now than when he was the mayor of New York.

"It's always exciting to have a new mayor coming in but this was a moderate Republican and moderate Republicans are hard to find," Conlin said in an interview at her New York office.

Conlin is president of New York's largest abortion rights organization and was appointed by Giuliani to the city's Human Rights Commission. She still calls Giuliani a friend, but bristles at much of what she hears from him on abortion lately.

For example, a staple Giuliani campaign line is: "I would appoint judges that are strict constructionists."

"It is code for judges who will overturn Roe v. Wade," says Conlin.

As mayor, Giuliani personally signed a proclamation designating "Roe v. Wade Anniversary Day" on the 25th anniversary of the landmark abortion rights ruling.

Now, as a presidential candidate, Giuliani has said, "I'm against abortion -- I hate it."

Conlin said she never heard anything like that when Giuliani was in office.

"He never seemed to have a struggle with the issue as mayor," she said.

"He was very proudly pro-choice."

But looking back at Giuliani statements and policy positions over the past 20 years, there is clearly an evolution in some of his positions, or in his emphasis, especially when it comes to abortion restrictions.

Some, like Conlin, label these flip-flops and accuse Giuliani of political calculation. But Giuliani aides reject the flip-flop label, and say any evolution in his thinking is the result of life experience and the very different policy calculations facing a president versus a mayor.

When he ran for mayor, Giuliani made clear he viewed his oath as an obligation to uphold the right to an abortion, but also said that doing so was at odds with values learned in his Catholic upbringing.

"I have personal views and religious views that are contrary to some of these areas," Giuliani said back then.

As mayor, he offered no such reservations: "I am pro-choice and pro-gay rights."

Now, as a presidential candidate, he embraces abortion restrictions he opposed as mayor.

Some think the abortion position he came to later in life will overcome questions about his earlier positions.

"I think Rudy Giuliani's current positions make his pro-choice stand acceptable for a lot of Republicans -- not all Republicans, of course, but a lot of Republicans," GOP pollster Whit Ayres said.

As mayor, Giuliani supported taxpayer-financed abortions for poor women, a position he reiterated in a 1997 National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League candidate questionnaire and again in an interview with CNN seven months ago.

"If it would deprive someone of a constitutional right, yes -- I mean, if that's the status of the law, then I would, yes," he told CNN.

But a day later, as Christian conservatives spread word of the CNN interview, the Giuliani campaign scrambled to clarify its position.

"I'd want to see it decided on a state-by-state basis," Giuliani said of the taxpayer-funding issue.

In the 1997 NARAL questionnaire, Giuliani also opposed restrictions on minors receiving abortions.

But now he says he backs parental notification as long as a judge can waive the requirement in some circumstances.

Whether to ban late-term abortions is another issue on which Giuliani has evolved. He opposed legislation during Bill Clinton's presidency that sought to outlaw the procedure.

"I have not supported [a ban] and I do not see my position on that changing," Giuliani told CNN at the time.

But it has changed.

After an April Supreme Court ruling upholding such a ban, Giuliani said, "I must say, Justice [Anthony] Kennedy's opinion convinced me even more that my support for the ban is a correct one."

Kelli Conlin shakes her head at that.

"He spoke at one of our events one time about that legislation and he was very intelligent about it," she said, recalling Giuliani talking about how in those rare cases where life of the mother was in jeopardy that doctors needed the authority to make quick decisions.

"He owes the American people an explanation of why he's flip flopped so dramatically," Conlin said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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