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ABORTION REMAINS A divisive issue in American politics. Republican nominee Robert Dole learned that again this year, when he tried to bring together the GOP's opposing factions. On one side was conservative pundit Pat Buchanan and his sizable voting bloc demanding that the strict anti-abortion plank be maintained in the Republican platform. Buchanan remained in the race long after he had any chance, he said, to speak for the "rights of the unborn." On the other side, pro-choice Republicans, including New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, New York Gov. George Pataki and California Gov. Pete Wilson, urged the plank be softened or even dropped. That didn't happen, but ultimately the moderates were allowed to add their views in an appendix.

Most Democrats support unrestricted abortion rights and agree that the government should help less-advantaged women pay for the procedure. Democrats in the 103rd Congress sponsored and passed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act, which was designed to reduce incidents of violent protests at abortion clinics. They argue that public opinion polls that show a majority of Americans support some abortion rights, a position the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed in its landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

This spring, Dole accused President Bill Clinton of being "extremist" on abortion after the president vetoed a measure in April to ban so-called "partial birth," late-term abortions. Clinton vetoed the measure on grounds it did not include exemptions for women who face serious health consequences if they carried the fetus to term. Clinton said the procedure is a "potentially life-saving, certainly health-saving" measure for "a small but extremely vulnerable group of women and families in this country, just a few hundred a year."

Nevertheless, the veto set off a firestorm of criticism from abortion opponents and religious leaders. Though Clinton's advisors do not believe the veto will hurt him politically because the late-term abortion procedure is relatively rare, Dole continues to raise the issue this fall. The House voted to override Clinton's veto on Sept. 19, but it's unclear whether the Senate will follow suit, and the abortion issue has taken a back seat to taxes, character and drugs as the fall campaign unfolds.

The most anti-abortion position supports a constitutional amendment banning abortion in all cases. Some favor exceptions in the case of rape, incest or danger to the life of the mother. More gradualist approaches include restrictions on third-trimester abortions and curbing federal funding of abortion clinics. More libertarian types, however, support abortion rights, though they simultaneously feel that government should not be in the business of subsidizing abortions. The most pro-abortion stance is unrestricted abortion rights with the government assistance for poor women.

Updated 9/19/96


  • Interview With Ralph Reed CNN's Judy Woodruff talks with Conservative Coalition director Ralph Reed. CNN, May 6, 1996
  • Calling The Cops On A Pregnant Girlfriend A Nebraska teenager, detained by police to prevent an abortion, sues all parties to her ordeal. By James L. Graff, TIME October 9, 1995
  • An Icon In Search Mode Norma McCorvey, the "Jane Roe" of Roe v. Wade, experiences a change of heart (sort of). By David Van Biema, TIME August 21, 1995
  • Playing Abortion Politics By Michael Kramer, TIME June 5, 1995
  • The Rhetoric Of Terror Accused killer John Salvi's defense will spotlight the shadowy network of antiabortion radicals who preach bombing and shooting to save the unborn. By Douglas Frantz, TIME March 27, 1995
  • Campaign '96 Briefing: Ducking The Question By Margaret Carlson, TIME June 13, 1995
  • Essay: Pro-Life And Pro-Choice? Yes! By George J. Church, TIME March 6, 1995
  • Fear In The Land The latest abortion-clinic killings - and the support for them - inspire new anxiety on both sides. By Jill Smolowe, 1/16/96

    for articles about

    Public Opinion

    Thinking about abortion, if you had to choose, would you describe yourself as being more pro-choice -- supporting a woman's right to have an abortion -- or more pro-life -- protecting the rights of unborn children?

    More pro-choice 53% 54% 51%
    More pro-life 40% 38% 41%
    Mixed/neither 5% 5% 5%
    Not sure 2% 3% 3%

    TIME/CNN Poll, conducted October 31-November 6, 1995.

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