Is the GOP a Mixed Choice Party?

Dana Goldstein

Pro-life Democrats have recently scored high profile electoral victories in the Rust Belt and Deep South. But the Republican Party continues to reject even tepid supporters of reproductive rights.

It wouldn’t exactly have been a pro-choice
victory if Congresswoman Heather Wilson had won the GOP primary for
New Mexico’s open Senate
seat. In 2006, Wilson told hometown paper the Albuquerque Tribune, "I believe abortion is morally
wrong almost all of the time." She supports
the Hyde Amendment, which prevents low-income women from using Medicare
or Medicaid coverage to pay for abortions. And Wilson is in favor of
the Global Gag Rule, which prevents U.S. foreign aid from funding comprehensive
family planning efforts abroad.

Nevertheless, unlike her opponent, Rep.
Steven Pearce, Wilson opposed a Constitutional amendment banning abortion
and supports a woman’s right to choose in cases of rape, incest, or
when her own life is at risk. Last year Wilson stood up to President
George W. Bush’s ban on federally funded stem cell research, while
Pearce kept in lock step with the president, opposing the life-saving
research.

On June 3, Wilson lost to Pearce by 3,000
votes after socially conservative interest groups attacked her stances on reproductive health issues. Once again, the
Republican base cannibalized one of its own moderates. And Wilson isn’t
an isolated case. WISH List, a group that supports pro-choice Republican
women running for office, has only one non-incumbent on its federal-level
endorsement list for November: Lynn Jenkins, the current Kansas state
treasurer. Jenkins is running in a GOP Congressional primary against
the highly favored Jim Ryun, a hard-line anti-choicer who served five
terms in the House before being booted out of office by pro-choice Republican-turned-Democrat
Nancy Boyda in 2006. Among Boyda’s reasons for leaving the GOP? Its
increasingly hard right stance on social issues.

Compare the uphill battle facing
pro-choice Republicans to the recent mini-surge of mixed-choice and anti-choice Democrats.
Democrats for Life even has its own signature legislation, the 95-10
Initiative. No equivalent, comprehensive reproductive health bill has
been drafted by the dwindling group of Congressional pro-choice Republicans.
The organization Republican Majority
for Choice
won’t
even publish a list of the politicians it supports online — after all,
that would make it easier for better funded, anti-choice forces to target
its few allies.

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That’s not to say there is
no safe haven for mixed-choice Republicans. New England continues to
be receptive to such folks; Maine’s Sen. Susan Collins is favored
for reelection, and the GOP candidate in the state’s fist Congressional
district is Charles Summers, an Iraq war veteran who describes himself
as pro-choice and has already defeated an anti-choice primary opponent.

Nationwide though, the GOP
continues to hitch its wagon to divisive, religiously-motivated, anti-choice
politics. In order to clinch his party’s presidential nomination,
John McCain embraced the fundamentalist evangelical and Catholic leaders
he once rejected, and changed his position on Roe v. Wade; McCain
now says the landmark pro-choice decision should be overturned, and
promises to appoint Supreme Court justices in the mold of Antonin Scalia
and Clarence Thomas.

If McCain can’t bring the
Christian right base out this November-and there’s every indication
those voters won’t show up at the polls in nearly the same numbers
as they did for Bush in 2000 and 2004-McCain’s bid will hinge on
his appeal to moderates. That will hurt the GOP, not just because poll
after poll shows Republican policies on the economy and the war are
out of line with the preferences of the American people, but also because
middle America is generally pro-choice. A new poll from NARAL Pro-Choice
America found that when swing voter women learn about McCain’s anti-choice
platform, 13 percent of them switch their preference to Barack Obama.

As NARAL political director
Elizabeth Shipp told me last
week
, "At the
end of the day, our issue — choice — is the one that cuts through,
frankly, all the other crap that happens in an election season. The
one issue where voters can make a clear and consistent choice very quickly
is on the issue of abortion."

The national Republican Party,
as well as the GOP electorate in most states, have already made their
choice, clearly signaling that politicians who support reproductive
rights aren’t welcome in their caucus. But in a time of recession
and war, it’s unlikely that so-called "family values" issues will
save the day for Republicans. 2008 may finally be the year when the
GOP learns the limits of fear-based campaigning against women’s rights.

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