PHILADELPHIA, July 28 (AP) -- Republicans turned aside an effort to moderate their policy against abortion rights Friday after a passionate but contained debate 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-rights Republicans. "Saving unborn children is a very noble cause." A panel of the GOP platform committee voted 10-3 against an attempt to strike abortion language from the document altogether, and 11-3 against an amendment expressing "recognition and respect" for both sides on the issue. Abortion-rights party members hoped for better luck on the full platform committee but knew their battle was uphill. Presidential candidate George W. Bush decided months ago not to rouse the religious right by taking it on over abortion. The panel was carefully drawn to ensure views in favor of abortion rights would be heard but would not prevail. Anti-abortion Republicans constituted a clear majority, filled both chairmen's seats and benefited from Hyde's high standing in the party in opposing three little-known state party activists. One of the three voted down, Toni Casey of Los Altos Hills, Calif., summoned Republicans 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 is
necessarily political, not least because some abortions are taxpayer-financed. "It's right up to its neck in politics,"' he said. His opponents brought to the table a letter from 11 Republican members of Congress appealing to platform leaders not to pursue the "totally unrealistic proposal" to ban abortion by amending the Constitution. An accommodation proving impossible on abortion, the party began rallying behind other aspects of a platform that holds onto conservative principles while shifting toward the center in tone and a few policy areas, in keeping with Bush's "compassionate conservatism." One platform draft drops the party's previous positions in favor of eliminating the Education Department, making English the official language and 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 its contention that homosexuality is incompatible with military service. A platform panel voted Friday to add language opposing special civil rights protections for gays. In opposing abortion and gay rights, the platform satisfies social conservatives on the two issues most important to them, said Gary Bauer, former candidate for the GOP nomination and longtime activist from the religious right. "In both those areas, the platform is very acceptable," Bauer said. Abortion-rights Republicans warned their party will seem to stand for
intolerance if it cannot at least reach out to people on both sides of the issue. "I don't understand why we are afraid of being inclusive," said Casey, a former registered Democrat who switched to the GOP because she likes Bush. Donna Howe of Louisiana, voting to keep the party's anti-abortion policies intact, said on this issue there can be no compromise. "I'm under the authority of the Creator of the universe," she said. "And he is pro-life." With limits placed on debate, abortion passed the panel in about an hour. Watching the proceedings, conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly, who lobbied platform leaders on abortion, welcomed the outcome without sounding at all conciliatory in victory. "They're losers," she said of the abortion-rights activists. "All they want to do is make trouble." The platform draft maintains the plank from the 1996 campaign calling for a constitutional amendment that would ban abortion in most if not all cases. The platform draft maintains the plank from the 1996 campaign calling for a constitutional amendment that would ban abortion in most if not all cases. The proposed "human life amendment" favored by many conservative Republicans 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 is not pushing to have those exceptions spelled out in the platform. His imperative has been to get the inevitable abortion fight over with in a hurry. Platform committee members broke into eight policy groups to examine the draft line by line and make amendments, most of them minor. Although they have no official role in the platform, Bush operatives sat in on several of the meetings, making gentle suggestions here and there when it seemed the language might drift too far from the candidate's agenda.

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

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