[AllPolitics - RNC '96 Facts]

Over the years, GOP abortion plank has evolved


The Republican Party's anti-abortion plank has gone full circle in just two decades. Robert Dole, the Kansas senator who introduced the anti-abortion language in 1976, hopes a tolerant abortion plank in 1996 will help him win the presidency. And while Dole pushes for the inclusive language Ronald Reagan inserted in 1980, members of the conservative right pledge to fight any departure from the strong anti-abortion plank used during the past three election years.

Abortion language first debuted in the GOP's 1976 platform, three years after the monumental Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. The plank recognized pro-life, pro-choice, middle ground and undecided factions of the party, but the position taken was Dole's language which called for a constitutional "human life" amendment. Having won a tight 1974 senate race by painting his obstetrician opponent as a supporter of abortion on demand, Dole had become a political champion of the pro-life cause.

Republican nominee Ronald Reagan pushed for inclusive but firm language on abortion in the 1980 GOP platform, and the plank had something to appease all sides. The plank supported an anti-abortion constitutional amendment and efforts to cut the flow of taxpayers' money to abortion services, but it also recognized the differences of view among Americans and within the party. Also included in the plank was a pledge to appoint judges with traditional family values, making the abortion stance a GOP "litmus test" for judicial nominees.

GOP conservatives had their way with the GOP platform in 1984, and the abortion plank was no exception. Building on the 1980 wording, the 1984 plank also proposed extending the 14th Amendment, which says no one shall be deprived of life or liberty without due process of the law, to fetuses. The 1980 tolerance language, which had appeased moderates, was gone, and even the inclusive undertones were lost in the plank that began: "The unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life that cannot be infringed."

The 1984 plank also recognized the larger social ills the GOP connected with abortion, praising people and groups that provide financial, emotional and physical aid to pregnant women. The plank's language veered farther right than in the past, but it best represented its conservative president and his conservative-dominated party.

The 1984 abortion plank carried through 1988 and was slightly condensed in 1992. Both the 1984 and 1988 GOP planks praised Reagan's commitment to appointing pro-life judges.

Reagan's more moderate successor, George Bush, kept the strong anti-abortion language in the platform in 1988 and in the 1992 GOP platform under pressure from the conservative wing of the party. Any weakening of the language would have alienated Pat Buchanan's vocal following, killing any chances of a Republican presidential victory. In Buchanan's fiery 1992 convention speech, his first mention of domestic policy was to praise Bush's pro-life position and label Clinton as a supporter of abortion on demand.

From the court room to the polling booth, abortion has become one of the most volatile issues in American politics. A number of prominent GOP governors and congressmen support abortion rights, making divergent views commonplace in the Republican ranks. This year Dole faces virtually the same dilemma as Bush -- either use tolerance to court centrist voters, while dissing the Republican right, or appease the conservative wing at the cost of alienating moderate party members and voters.

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