Pro-Choice Republicans Take Close Look at McCain-Palin Ticket

Kay Steiger

John McCain has said he'll nominate "strict constructionist" Supreme Court justices. Sarah Palin opposes abortion even in cases of rape or incest. What's a pro-choice Republican to do?

The Republican Party was once a long and proud tradition
of pro-choice heavyweights, including former Minnesota Gov. Arnie Carlson,
former New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, Sen. Arlen Specter, and former
Connecticut Congresswoman Nancy Johnson. Many of these pro-choice Republicans have retired or lost re-election campaigns, which deeply concerns Republican Majority for Choice, a group
that works to elect pro-choice Republicans and to take the anti-choice planks out of the Republican party platform.

 

RMC’s priority for this election
was to get a pro-choice candidate on the Republican presidential ticket. "We came close,"
said RMC co-chair Jennifer Blei Stockman, noting that John McCain’s campaign
seriously considered both Sen. Joe Lieberman and former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom
Ridge for VP, both of whom have
long supported abortion rights. Instead, the party picked Palin, a
member of Feminists for Life
.

"Obviously we’re thrilled it’s a woman, having a woman run
for office is a true barrier breaker,"
Stockman said. "But we know she’s
pro-life. We just don’t know if she would like to overturn Roe. She does not have a statement about that yet."
But last week in Palin’s interview with Charlie Gibson on ABC,
Palin’s first television interview since she was named vice
presidential nominee, the candidate said she does believe Roe v. Wade should be overturned and that laws regarding abortion should be made by the states.

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Statement or no statement, chances are good that Palin would want to appoint
justices likely to overturn Roe v. Wade.
Feminists for Life was founded in the wake of the Roe v. Wade decision. The Republican National Coalition for Life,
where Palin was scheduled to appear, says in their mission statement, "We will
work to hold Republican lawmakers accountable to the pro-life principles in our
platform. It is our desire to see those principles translated into public
policy and law." And Palin told the Eagle Forum when running for governor in 2006, she is "pro-life," and believes that abortion should be outlawed in all cases, including rape and incest, except when pregnancy poses a threat to a woman’s life.

In the end, the battle becomes about justices on the Supreme
Court. Though McCain has made his judicial philosophy clear — and essentially guaranteed the nomination of a "strict constructionist" justice or justices in the mold of Robert and Alito — Stockman sees the Democratic Congress as a buffer to the most egregious of his possible choices: "Believe it or not, I’m not as concerned because Democrats will control
the Senate and McCain can’t propose [a judicial nominee] who’s on the record as being
anti-choice," Stockman said.

Despite RMC’s optimism that McCain will prioritize other
issues over women’s health and rights, his track record aligns overwhelmingly
with a pro-life agenda. As Sarah Blustain reported
in The New Republic earlier this
summer, McCain has voted against women’s health and rights issues — ranging from
birth control access to abortion — 125 out of 130 times. Even if he doesn’t prioritize curtailing women’s access to reproductive health services, his lack of
engagement on this issue is remarkable. As a Planned Parenthood Action Fund campaign ad highlights,
when McCain was asked what he thought about the fact that many insurance
companies cover Viagra but not birth control, his lengthy pause gives cause for
concern.

Many moderate Republicans like those from RMC long for a
return to a Barry Goldwater style of conservatism, in which the government stays
out of personal issues of all kinds, from abortion to phone records. A recent poll
(PDF) conducted by the Republican Majority for Choice discovered that more than
75 percent of Republicans believe the choice to have an abortion should be up
to the woman, not the government. The poll also found that 66 percent
Republicans that described themselves as pro-choice thought the woman, not the
government, should make a decision about an abortion.

Pro-choice candidates aren’t just confined to the
highest-profile race this election season. "We felt very defeated — all Republicans
felt defeated after ’06 but we lost [pro-choice Republicans like] Nancy
Johnson," Stockman said. "We’ve lost a lot of our friends, our allies."
Numerous congressional races, like that of retiring Minnesota Congressman Jim
Ramstad are in play. State legislator Erik Paulsen is running on the Republican
ticket for Ramstad’s seat. Paulsen is largely running as a fiscal conservative,
but Paulsen’s record gets a 90 percent rating
from the Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life.

Stockman also emphasized the need for younger Republicans,
like Kate Whitman, daughter of Christine Todd Whitman, to run for office. These
young people might be more likely to keep legislation away from personal choice issues.  "There are so many young people who are turned off by the Republican Party,"
Stockman said. She hopes to recruit young pro-choice people to run in
Republican primaries.

The Republican Party has always had to reconcile the
traditional party model of a big tent with its militantly pro-life members.
But now Republicans in the middle of the political spectrum are getting defeated in
primary races or retiring from office. Those lining up to replace them are
fervently pro-life, ready to take up the culture wars. The majority of
Republicans want the government to stay out of a personal decision like
abortion, so pro-life candidates represent a very small subset of the party.
Unless the Republican Party supports more pro-choice candidates, they may end
up with a very small tent.

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