WASHINGTON, July 23 (AP) -- When Republicans meet in Philadelphia this weekto write party policy in advance of their national convention, some of themwill be energized by two ideas that are long on conviction, short onpracticality and headlong in conflict. One is that the nation might actually be persuaded to amend the Constitutionto ban abortion. Period. The other is that the Republican Party might actually be persuaded to stopcalling for that goal. As Associated Press interviews with most of the 2,066 convention delegatesshow, tension over abortion rights is deeply embedded in the party despite awish by both sides to avoid an argument that could complicate George W.Bush's chances of becoming president. The interviews indicate that, once again, anti-abortion forces have theupper hand but also, once again, that they are a minority--if a potent one-- on the matter of a constitutional ban. Among the more than 1,800 delegates surveyed, 43 percent said they want theparty platform to continue to advocate a ban while 31.5 percent do not. Therest did not know or did not respond. Among delegates who are also on the platform committee--the most likelyflashpoint of the abortion debate--proponents of a ban outnumbered theother side by a 3-1 margin, although the views of 43 percent were unknown. "There is pretty much of a split on the issue," said Alan Abramowitz, anEmory University specialist in abortion politics. But among those in charge of the convention and platform, "there's anagreement reflecting the views of George W. Bush that this should be kept inthe platform, primarily as a way of ensuring the loyalty of the religiousright." Those who oppose calling for a ban in the platform do so for differentreasons. Some favor broad abortion rights while others--notablypresidential candidate Bush--believe abortion should be legal in at leastlimited cases that a prohibition rules out. Still others oppose abortion rights but say it is inconceivable that aconstitutional amendment ending them could pass in Congress and enoughstates. If a ban has no chance, they argue, why risk an open party fight?
"You can call for it, but it's a useless call," said Florida delegate TomSlade, a former state party chairman. "You really are shouting into awindstorm." The other side says anti-abortion principle is paramount regardless of itschances. "We need to stand for what's right," said Alabama delegate Mike Hubbard,38, of Auburn, a member of the platform committee. "You have to havesomething that separates you from the Democrats, and that's certainly one ofthem."Platform members are to receive a draft of the document Thursday, break intogroups Friday to go over each section and propose changes, and vote to adoptthe platform Saturday. The convention, opening two days later, will be askedto ratify the platform, with little chance to debate details at that point. Abortion-rights Republicans have been told to expect no changes. But theyare vowing to press their case that the platform should drop references toabortion or at least make an explicit statement of respect and welcome topeople who feel as they do on the issue. Advocates on both sides are keenly aware that a blowup in Philadelphia couldbe costly in what is shaping up to be a close election. Republicans "have to make sure they do not get themselves into a divisivebattle, or they will lose the presidency and then they won't be able to doanything," said York County, Penn., delegate William Goodling, 72, whofavors abortion restrictions. Delegate Priscilla Rakestraw, 56, of Wilmington Del., agreed. "I ampersonally pro-choice," she said, "but this is not the time to debate thatissue." Abramowitz said Bush, in deciding to leave the abortion language alone,calculated that it was better to mollify religious conservatives thanabortion-rights activists on that issue. Bush advisers also evidently concluded that while he may lose some votesover the subject in the fall, abortion is not a prime issue in the election."I think they're largely right about that," Abramowitz said, "although Ithink it does hurt them at least marginally." Bush is reserving the option of picking a running mate who supports abortionrights. Delegates, who have no say in that decision, seem open to the idea. Republican strategists and outside experts believe Bush is going into theconvention in a stronger position than nominee Bob Dole did in 1996 and hasa better chance of keeping a lid on fractiousness. Yet it's clear convictions have not changed much since 1996, whenRepublicans lined up for and against the abortion plank in similar numbers. "If George Bush leaves the conservative planks in the platform, and doesnothing to betray the conservative constituency, he's going to win by alandslide," said Alabama delegate Larry Sims, 53, a former staterepresentative.
John H. Baker, 74, a physician and delegate from Whitinsville, Mass., saw itanother way. "The Republican Party has to strive to be mainline," he said."We have to avoid radical opinions."