January 1, 1998


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 GOP To Consider Abortion Litmus Test (12-31-97)



GOP Rejects Controversial Abortion Resolution

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. (AllPolitics Jan. 16) -- The Republican National Committee has rejected a resolution that would have cut off party money to any candidate who does not support outlawing a type of late-term abortion.

After hearing exhortations from party leaders that the proposed ban would divide the party, delegates at the RNC's winter meeting voted 114 to 43 to replace the proposal with a watered-down measure criticizing President Bill Clinton's opposition to a total ban on the procedure, which anti-abortion groups refer to as "partial birth" abortion.

"There is certainly a preponderance of people on the committee who do not think this is the right approach, even though we are almost unanimous in wanting to outlaw partial birth abortion," said RNC chairman Jim Nicholson.

"I frankly believe the leadership is out of touch" with the grass roots of the party, said Tim Lambert, the Texas RNC member who proposed the resolution. He indicated that anti-abortion forces in various states may work to oust RNC members who opposed the ban.

The issue has sparked divisive debate during an election year in which Republicans will be defending their majorities in Congress.

Though most Republican officeholders support a ban on the late-term abortion procedure, some well-known moderates -- New Jersey Gov. Christine Whitman, for example -- do not.

Party leaders called Lambert's proposal a "litmus test" that would drive Republicans who support abortion rights away from the GOP. But supporters of the ban, including the influential Christian Coalition, believe the party should take a principled stand on what they see as a moral issue.

A new CNN-Time poll found that 51 percent of Republicans nationwide supported Lambert's ban, while only 35 percent opposed it.

But House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who opposed the resolution, told the RNC members that the fight over the funding ban is shifting the focus of the abortion issue away from where it belongs -- on Clinton's vetoes of late-term abortion bans passed by Congress.

"Our focus should be on why is he (Clinton) stopping this legitimate ban of an inappropriate act, rather than allowing the news media to have a field day trying to divide us," Gingrich said.

Clinton vetoed the late-term abortion bans in 1996 and 1997. The Congress has so far been unable to get the two-thirds majorities in both the House and the Senate that are necessary to overturn the veto.

In his exhortations against the funding ban, Gingrich also invoked the name of former President Ronald Reagan.

"Reagan understood that as the leader of America, and as the leader of the Republican Party, it was his job to bring us together, not to find ways to tear us apart," Gingrich said.

Perhaps the most emotion-laden argument came from Rep. Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), a longtime and ardent opponent of abortion. Nevertheless, at Nicholson's request, he flew to Palm Springs at the last minute to lobby against Lambert's proposal.

"The worst thing you can do for the pro-life cause is lose our majority," said Hyde, before a hushed audience.

CNN Correspondent Judy Woodruff contributed to this report.

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