WASHINGTON—Unless pro-life voters demand more from presidential candidates in the next election, the rights of unborn children will continue to be undermined as the new millennium begins, warns pro-life leader Colleen Parro.
“1999 will truly be a watershed year for pro-life activists,” said Parro, director of the Republican National Coalition for Life. “Pro-life voters must put their efforts, money, and time behind a truly pro-life candidate.”
On the other side, leaders from Planned Parenthood say they'll be working just as hard to ensure that an abortion defender succeeds President Clinton in 2000. They predict that a strong pro-life candidate will go down to defeat.
“Voters want someone who reflects their values, someone like them,” Nina Miller, director of the bipartisan Planned Parenthood Action Fund, told the Register. “When someone is so extreme in their position, they [voters] begin to say, ‘Who is this person that opposes family planning, abortion, and insurance coverage for contraceptive?’ These positions are not reflective of their values.”
One thing both sides do agree on, however, is that the time to challenge candidates is now. The New Hampshire primary and Iowa caucuses will take place next February, a mere 12 months from now. Who emerges as the Republican and Democratic nominees will be shaped in large part by grass-roots activists and voters. Since all major announced and potential Democratic candidates hold a pro-abortion position, pro-life leaders are hoping to influence the candidates seeking the Republican nomination.
Parro told the Register that it's imperative for pro-life advocates to educate and challenge the candidates now — not once they've won the nomination or emerged as a clear front-runner.
With Elizabeth Dole's recent resignation as director of Red Cross and U.S. Senator John Ashcroft's decision not to run, the race for the Republican nomination is as muddy as ever. Three candidates have announced they are in the race: U.S. Senator Bob Smith of New Hampshire, pro-family leader Gary Bauer, and former Vice President Dan Quayle.
Parro said it is imperative that pro-lifers unite and send a clear message to candidates.
“Pro-life voters have to stop settling for so little in their candidates,” she said. “We have to stop settling for candidates who say they are ‘pro-life’ but who have exceptions for one reason or another.”
Of those candidates running or considering running for the GOP nomination, four oppose abortion in all cases: Smith, Bauer, Pat Buchanan, and Alan Keyes. Of the remaining potential candidates, most support keeping abortion legal in certain cases (such as in cases of rape or incest). This group includes Quayle, Lamar Alexander, George W. Bush, John McCain, John Kasich, Elizabeth Dole, and Steve Forbes. Former California Gov. Pete Wilson is pro-abortion.
“There are some candidates who say there should be exceptions for rape, incest, fetal deformity, and other reasons,” said Parro. “The fact is they want abortion to remain legal in certain cases.”
In Iowa, the nation's first caucus state, pro-life and Republican leaders are already gearing up for the 2000 elections.
Carmen Kopf, spokeswoman for Iowans for Life, said representatives of her organization have already met with some possible Republican candidates. She said she and other prolifers were leaning toward supporting Ashcroft, but with his departure, the field is now wide-open.
Kopf echoed Parro's sentiments saying pro-lifers should remind candidates early on that their support of the right to life cannot be half-hearted. If the hopefuls are not aggressive in defending unborn children, she said, pro-lifers won't be aggressive in promoting their candidacies. “Now is the time to challenge these candidates, or we're going to be stuck with a bunch of moderates as the main contenders for the nomination,” she said.
While Parro and Kopf say the key is to select the strongest pro-life candidate possible, others say the key task for the pro-life movement is to unite behind one candidate instead of splitting the pro-life vote.
Keith Fortmann, executive director of the Republican Party of Iowa, told the Register that pro-life voters comprise at least 50% of those who attend the Iowa caucuses. While he acknowledges that the movement carries “tremendous strength” in Iowa, unity has been the key problem in past election cycles.
“Pro-life voters have been at a disadvantage because they have been divided in who they have decided to support,” said Fortmann. “Because of this, a moderate or establishment Republican has eked in.”
Fortmann suggested pro-lifers should focus energy on finding one candidate who is electable and uniting their efforts behind that individual. He said pro-life leaders in Iowa have been attempting to begin the process of uniting behind one candidate, but the process has been frustrating.
“Pro-lifers have a huge impact and wield a tremendous amount of power in the Iowa caucuses, but they haven't been able to capitalize on this strength in one united voice,” he said. “The question of whether they will [unite behind one candidate] is still very much open.”
Who emerges as front-runners in the GOP race may ride less on the candidates’ positions on the issues and more on the ability to raise money — a lot of money.
Parro said the key for the candidates who are solidly pro-life is to raise enough money to be competitive in the early primaries and caucuses. While past years have focused on smaller states early in the process, New York and California's primaries will immediately follow New Hampshire and Iowa.
This change, according to Parro, means the cost of running an effective campaign has increased, since New York and California media markets are much more expensive. She estimates that to maintain a viable candidacy, candidates will need to raise between $20 million between now and the end of the year.
To Planned Parenthood's Miller, the critical issue in the campaign isn't so much money as the drastic “rightward” shift she says many Republican candidates have taken on the abortion issue.
She supported some Republican plans. “Most American voters want their elected officials to focus on issues and policies that make a difference such as finding a way to reduce the need for abortion and educating young people on how to make responsible choices.”
But defending the right to life of children in law is going too far, she said. “Republicans have to get off this hard-core ideological stuff that is far out there.”
Pro-life leaders like Kopf disagree. Calling a strong pro-life position, “ethically, morally, and politically advantageous,” Kopf predicts that a pro-life movement united behind a solid pro-life candidate will ensure that the Republican Party's pro-life plank remains intact and that unborn children have a voice in the political process.
“Someone has to speak for the babies,” she said. “They have no voice but ours, and we need to be their voice in meeting with the candidates, at the caucuses, and in the voting booth.”
Greg Chesmore writes from Bloomington, Indiana.