Top of the Ticket

Political commentary from the LA Times

« Previous Post | Top of the Ticket Home | Next Post »

The abortion issue and the right

July 19, 2007 |  2:26 pm

Politics was once so much easier for social conservatives. As they surveyed the field of Republican presidential contenders in recent campaigns, their choices ranged from those who opposed abortion rights, those who really opposed abortion rights and those who really, really opposed abortion rights.

Now, of course, the main contenders for the GOP nomination include Mitt Romney, who when he was running for office in Massachusttes was for a woman's right to choose before he was against it, once he embarked on a national campaign.

Then there's Rudy Giuliani, who periodically recalibrates his message on the issue. Mostly, he likes to ignore it. When forced to confront it, he says that "hates" abortion personally but supports the principle of choice. But sometimes, as was the case this week, he seems to wink and nod at the foes of abortion rights.

First, he announced a "Justice Advisory Committee" studded with full-fledged conservatives. Then, as he campaigned in Iowa Wednesday, he pledged to appoint Supreme Court justices similar to the core of conservatives already on that bench --- John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. The Des Moines Register headline said it all: "Giuliani's pitch hints at anti-abortion judges."

There's also the all-but-announced candidate, Fred Thompson, who can no longer play coy about whether, as our colleague Michael Finnegan first reported earlier this month, he once lobbied to ease restrictions on abortion counseling. ...

It had been clear last week that Thompson, after his campaign initially denied the report, was backing off that position. Now, any doubt has been removed, following today's New York Times story on the billing records from the early 1990s showing that he did the work.

Oddly, compared to the thickets surrounding these White House aspirants on the abortion issue, standing out there with a much less complex background is the GOP contender many conservatives love to hate: John McCain. During 24 years in Congress, as a House member and senator, the Arizonan has a rock-solid record of voting against abortion rights.

His website is clear about his position: "John McCain believes Roe v. Wade (the 1973 Supreme Court ruling establishing a federal right to abortion) is a flawed decision that must be overturned ... . Constitutional balance would be restored by the reversal of Roe v. Wade, returning the abortion question to the individual states. The difficult issue of abortion should not be decided by judicial fiat."

For some, a preferable view would be support for a constitutional amendment flat-out banning abortion in the U.S. Still, McCain can claim a more consistent anti-abortion stance over the years than the other big guns can point to.

The main reason this hasn't thawed the antipathy toward McCain in conservative circles is that he has so antagonized the right on other matters, campaign finance reform and immigration policy being the two most obvious examples.

Also, for McCain, opposition to abortion rights clearly has never been a passion. He will occasionally stress it, before certain audiences, but it is not subject on which he routinely spends much time or energy.

One wonders, with his campaign on the ropes, if that might change.

-- Don Frederick