Las Vegas Sun

February 27, 2024

Abortion issue threatens to drown Republicans

The debate over abortion has stirred a whirlpool of controversy that threatens to sink Republicans in bad publicity during the party's convention this summer in San Diego.

Caught in the undertow are Rep. John Ensign, R-Nev., presidential candidate Bob Dole and other anti-abortion candidates who could do without the hoopla.

A majority of voters favor the law allowing women to abort a pregnancy. Some Republicans fear a public fight over the party's platform in August will inspire pro-choice advocates to vote in large numbers against GOP candidates.

Party rank-and-file members use platforms, which are advisory and unbinding, to provide philosophical direction.

Most Nevada delegates to the convention wish the flap would go away so the party can enjoy smooth sailing in the months leading up the November election.

That's unlikely, however, because anti-abortion activists led by presidential contender Pat Buchanan vow to fight for language outlawing abortion.

Some moderates, such as New Jersey Gov. Christie Todd Whitman, are seeking a compromise position.

Nine of Nevada's 14 delegates -- including all four women -- have pledged to oppose Buchanan's hard-line stance.

Eleven delegates are elected officials who have to face voters and don't want the party to seem extreme.

"If you look at Republican elected officials statewide, you'll find most are moderate on the abortion issue," said Assemblyman Pete Ernaut, R-Reno.

Joining Ernaut in opposing an abortion ban: Las Vegas Assemblywoman Deanna Braunlin, state Sens. Kathy Augustine and Sue Lowden of Las Vegas, Clark County Commissioners Lorraine Hunt and Bruce Woodbury, Assembly Co-Speaker Lynn Hettrick of Gardnerville, state Treasurer Bob Seale and Henderson Mayor Bob Groesbeck.

"I don't believe government should be involved in a personal decision like abortion," Braunlin said.

Augustine, who said a decision to abort should be left to the woman involved, termed abortion the "largest party-splitting issue" among Republicans.

"I don't think as a single issue it will make or break a Republican candidate," she said. "But it has been divisive in the Republican Party for a decade now, and we need to get beyond it."

Hunt, who is Catholic, said she opposes abortions but believes the government should not intrude in personal decisions.

"Too many women today are using abortion as birth control, but I think it's up to the individual," she said.

Woodbury believes exceptions should be allowed for rape, incest or health of the mother.

"It should be an issue each state should resolve," he said.

Lowden and Hettrick said the national party ought to follow Nevada's lead and take abortion out of the platform. Nevada Republicans, after a heated debate at the state convention in Reno earlier this month, struck the abortion plank from the state platform.

Seale, seeking to replace retiring Rep. Barbara Vucanovich, R-Nev., advocates a pro-choice position.

"I don't believe government has any business in the bedroom," Seale said. "I don't believe it's my right as a politician to make up my mind for everyone else."

Groesbeck thinks delegates should concentrate on electing Dole to the White House and not get hung up on the abortion issue.

"It has created a great deal of division in the party," he said.

The remaining five delegates said they are not sure how they'd vote if forced to decide whether the platform should include a ban on abortions.

In this group are Ensign, Lt. Gov. Lonnie Hammargren, former U.S. Senate candidate and Las Vegas businessman Hal Furman, Black Republican Roundtable President Bob Bailey and fellow Las Vegan Jerry Dondero, chairman of Dole's Nevada campaign steering committee.

Ensign potentially has the most to lose in a squabble over abortion.

Ensign is seeking re-election in a district that includes 30,000 more Democrats than Republicans, and Democrats have established themselves as the pro-choice party.

Ensign conceded a rigid pro-life platform could hurt his re-election but argues that the opposite might also be true. He said Republicans could score points by holding a public debate on the issue.

"The Democrats have suppressed it," Ensign said. "They haven't allowed it to be a battle. From a political standpoint that's smart. It's healthier for our party because we are allowing it to be debated. It's more democratic."

Dondero said he'll support whatever position is proposed by the party's platform committee.

"I don't like to see it as a political issue," Dondero said. "It's a personal and religious issue."

Augustine and Furman will represent Nevada on the national platform committee. But unlike Augustine, Furman is pro-life and said he supports the anti-abortion plank adopted by the GOP in 1992.

Still, Furman said he would back whatever position is adopted by Dole, who has has taken an anti-abortion stance that includes exceptions for rape, incest and health of the mother.

"It may well be that Senator Dole may want to change the language for whatever reason, and I want to give deference to that," he said.

Bailey said he would prefer that an anti-abortion plank contain exceptions but counted himself among those who are undecided.

"It would have to depend on the conditions brought to the (convention) floor," he said.

Hammargren also said he didn't want to commit to a position until he has a chance to review proposals.

"Having never been to a national convention, I will have to find out if I'm representing the state of Nevada or myself personally," Hammargren said. "At this point, I have no idea what my role will be."