PHILADELPHIA, July 28 (AP) -- Republicans turned aside an effort to moderatetheir policy against abortion rights Friday after a passionate but containeddebate on an issue that strains GOP unity more than any other. The platform "is meaningless if it doesn't stand for something," said Rep.Henry Hyde of Illinois, who opposed giving any ground to abortion-rightsRepublicans. "Saving unborn children is a very noble cause."A panel of the GOP platform committee voted 10-3 against an attempt tostrike abortion language from the document altogether, and 11-3 against anamendment expressing "recognition and respect" for both sides on theissue. Abortion-rights party members hoped for better luck on the full platformcommittee but knew their battle was uphill. Presidential candidate George W.Bush decided months ago not to rouse the religious right by taking it onover abortion. The panel was carefully drawn to ensure views in favor of abortion rightswould be heard but would not prevail. Anti-abortion Republicans constituted a clear majority, filled bothchairmen's seats and benefited from Hyde's high standing in the party inopposing three little-known state party activists. One of the three voted down, Toni Casey of Los Altos Hills, Calif., summonedRepublicans to "a historic opportunity" to take abortion out of politics. "We can come together," she pleaded. "We can adopt a platform plank ...that unites us, not divides us." Hyde, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, countered that abortion isnecessarily political, not least because some abortions aretaxpayer-financed. "It's right up to its neck in politics,"' he said. His opponents brought to the table a letter from 11 Republican members ofCongress appealing to platform leaders not to pursue the "totallyunrealistic proposal" to ban abortion by amending the Constitution. An accommodation proving impossible on abortion, the party began rallyingbehind other aspects of a platform that holds onto conservative principleswhile shifting toward the center in tone and a few policy areas, in keepingwith Bush's "compassionate conservatism." One platform draft drops the party's previous positions in favor ofeliminating the Education Department, making English the official languageand denying social services to immigrants. It favors a stronger federal role in environmental protection than before. The party is holding to its official view against same-sex marriage and itscontention that homosexuality is incompatible with military service. Aplatform panel voted Friday to add language opposing special civil rightsprotections for gays. In opposing abortion and gay rights, the platform satisfies socialconservatives on the two issues most important to them, said Gary Bauer,former candidate for the GOP nomination and longtime activist from thereligious right. "In both those areas, the platform is very acceptable," Bauer said. Abortion-rights Republicans warned their party will seem to stand forintolerance if it cannot at least reach out to people on both sides of theissue. "I don't understand why we are afraid of being inclusive," said Casey, aformer registered Democrat who switched to the GOP because she likes Bush. Donna Howe of Louisiana, voting to keep the party's anti-abortion policiesintact, said on this issue there can be no compromise. "I'm under the authority of the Creator of the universe," she said. "Andhe is pro-life." With limits placed on debate, abortion passed the panel in about an hour. Watching the proceedings, conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, wholobbied platform leaders on abortion, welcomed the outcome without soundingat all conciliatory in victory. "They're losers," she said of the abortion-rights activists. "All theywant to do is make trouble."The platform draft maintains the plank from the 1996 campaign calling for aconstitutional amendment that would ban abortion in most if not all cases. The platform draft maintains the plank from the 1996 campaign calling for aconstitutional amendment that would ban abortion in most if not all cases. The proposed "human life amendment" favored by many conservativeRepublicans would allow abortion only to save the life of the woman,although that exception is not specified in the plank. Bush also favors leaving abortion legal in cases of rape or incest but isnot pushing to have those exceptions spelled out in the platform. Hisimperative has been to get the inevitable abortion fight over with in ahurry. Platform committee members broke into eight policy groups to examine thedraft line by line and make amendments, most of them minor. Although theyhave no official role in the platform, Bush operatives sat in on several ofthe meetings, making gentle suggestions here and there when it seemed thelanguage might drift too far from the candidate's agenda.

The platform was expected to be approved late Friday or on Saturday, twodays before the national convention opens.