The Republican Party's word-for-word reaffirmation of its extremist abortionplank is out of step with the views of most religious Americans. The plankdisregards what 78 percent of voters (according to a recent national poll bythe highly respected pollster Celinda Lake) think is the right thing todo-leave a decision about abortion in the hands of a woman, in consultationwith her God, faith and conscience and her own personal situation.

By disregarding what the vast majority of decent, moral, thoughtfulAmericans believe, the Republican platform refuses to acknowledge therealities of the lives of our families, neighbors and friends. That is anarrogant, offensive attitude. It demeans women by removing from theircontrol the most basic decision about their health. As a Republican, I couldnot accept that disregard of women as individuals and as moral agents. Thatis precisely why I-an African American Baptist minister, appointed byPresident Nixon to the District of Columbia Council in 1970-left theRepublican Party 15 years ago and became an independent. It is why manyothers are leaving as well.

Anti-abortion extremists want to paint abortion as a black-or-white,good-or-evil issue. Either you're on one side-the good side, the right side,their side-or the other. Either you're for life-or you're for death. But thereal world, where women and men struggle with difficult situations that defysimplistic solutions, is not simple. Each individual faces complexities thatno one else can truly understand. A ban on all abortions, with absolutely noexceptions, such as the GOP platform committee has adopted, shuts the dooron the woman who has been raped, the girl who has been incested, the womanwhose husband has recently left her and their children, the frightened, theunsure, the unready, the unable. Who among us can judge these women, withouteven knowing them? Apparently, the GOP platform committee felt up to thattask.

The insistence of conservative and extreme Republicans on keeping abortionin the limelight is insulting and inappropriate. An unintended pregnancy isnot a political issue. The crisis a woman and her family face at such amoment is deeply personal. It can tear at her heart and the core of herwell-being. I will never forget a 12-year-old girl who became pregnant andwas sent away to have her baby. Fearful and unsure, she induced her ownabortion and, when this was discovered, she was arrested and charged withmanslaughter. Even though the family managed to have the charges removed,the emotional scars could not be removed. Years later-after she completedcollege, married, and had a beautiful family-her daughter was killed in anaccident and her mind went back to her youth. She believed the accident wasa punishment for the abortion she had as a 12-year-old. How can anypolitical party or legislator live with that guilt and pain on theirconscience?

While people of all religions anguish over abortion, most feel this is anindividual moral decision, one a woman must make for herself in keeping withher faith, beliefs, conscience and her own personal situation. According tothe Lake poll, across religions, people would protect a woman's right tochoose and would not take that right away from other women, even if theythemselves may not choose to have an abortion (with the exception ofborn-again Christians). Notably, even a third of anti-choice voters arestill willing to protect the rights of other women. This respect for womenis in the best tradition of our faiths. The Bible teaches us that God hasgiven us free will to make our own decisions. We must live with theconsequences of the decisions we make, but we have the moral agency to makecomplex decisions.

The abortion plank insults thinking women and men by ignoring the diversityof views on a profound issue. It embodies one religious view about thebeginning of life. But we all know that different religions have differentideas and beliefs about the beginning of life. As a nation founded onreligious liberty, we believe no one religion should dominate and impose itsbeliefs on all Americans. Republicans are second to none in their defense ofreligious liberty. Yet the abortion plank tramples religious liberty in away that threatens the beliefs and consciences of millions of Americancitizens.

The Republican platform committee presumably tried to avoid controversy bysticking with the same old abortion plank, hoping no one would notice. It'sno surprise that everyone has noticed. This is not an issue you can sweepunder the rug. It's too important. Pro-choice Republicans are working withintheir party to bring about more moderate, sensible, and humane positionsthan those offered by the platform committee and under the direction ofGovernor Bush. It's not too late for Governor Bush to listen to the strongpro-choice groups within the party. Let's pray he does.