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

By disregarding what the vast majority of decent, moral, thoughtful Americans believe, the Republican platform refuses to acknowledge the realities of the lives of our families, neighbors and friends. That is an arrogant, offensive attitude. It demeans women by removing from their control the most basic decision about their health. As a Republican, I could not accept that disregard of women as individuals and as moral agents. That is precisely why I-an African American Baptist minister, appointed by President Nixon to the District of Columbia Council in 1970-left the Republican Party 15 years ago and became an independent. It is why many others 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 the real world, where women and men struggle with difficult situations that defy simplistic solutions, is not simple. Each individual faces complexities that no one else can truly understand. A ban on all abortions, with absolutely no exceptions, such as the GOP platform committee has adopted, shuts the door on the woman who has been raped, the girl who has been incested, the woman whose husband has recently left her and their children, the frightened, the unsure, the unready, the unable. Who among us can judge these women, without even knowing them? Apparently, the GOP platform committee felt up to that task.

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

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

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

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

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