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Dole Wants GOP Platform to Include ‘Declaration of Tolerance’

June 7, 1996 GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) _ While vowing to maintain the Republican Party’s anti-abortion principle, Bob Dole said Thursday he wants the GOP platform to include a ``declaration of tolerance″ welcoming those who favor abortion rights.

``Our convention must reflect not only our strong pro-life convictions, but a decent regard for the opinions of those who disagree,″ Dole declared in saying flatly for the first time that he wanted to modify the platform language. ``This is not compromise, it is civility.″

Even though Dole vowed the party _ and he personally _ would proudly maintain anti-abortion views, his overture is certain to provoke an outcry from some anti-abortion leaders. Pat Buchanan, the only 1996 Republican candidate who has yet to endorse Dole, has promised to resist any changes beyond condemnation of President Clinton’s recent veto of legislation banning certain late-term abortions.

Another question is whether the gesture will be enough to quash efforts by abortion rights supporters within the GOP who have vowed to fight to remove the anti-abortion plank altogether. This group includes the Republican governors of California, New York, New Jersey and Massachusetts _ all Dole supporters.

Trying to quiet expected objections from anti-abortion forces, Dole noted there also was disagreement within the party on other issues, specifically citing term limits. And aides said Dole was not insisting that the ``declaration of tolerance″ be added to the existing 98-word anti-abortion plank and suggested it might be put elsewhere, perhaps in a pre-amble to the document. That decision rests with the platform committee.

Dole noted that the platform has had anti-abortion language since 1980, including a call for a constitutional amendment banning abortion, and said: ``In the 1996 platform I will not seek or accept a retreat from those commitments.″

But Dole recalled the formula used in 1980, when Ronald Reagan first had the anti-abortion language placed in the platform. After calling for a constitutional amendment banning abortion, the 1980 platform said, ``we recognize differing views on this question among Americans in general _ and in our own party.″

That ``big tent″ language was removed by anti-abortion forces in 1984, when they had a stronger voice at the convention than four years earlier. The same platform was readopted in 1988 and again in 1992. The 1996 platform committee would have to propose any changes to the full 1996 convention, which is being held in San Diego in August.


``I expect to run for president with the existing pro-life language from our 1992 platform and with the declaration of tolerance for divergent points of view on issues such as abortion,″ said Dole.

Dole cited his career-long anti-abortion voting record _ he supports a constitutional amendment banning abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and to save the life of the mother _ and said: ``I intend to run on a platform that reflects my views. Those views have been demonstrated in a long, consistent public record. They are a matter of conscience, not calculation.″

Still, Dole served notice that ``no one will be turned away from our convention or my campaign because they do not agree with me on these issues.″

Dole and aides have anguished over whether to propose changes to the abortion plank _ or to try to reintroduce the ``big tent″ language elsewhere in the platform. Dole himself has blamed the ``gender gap″ _ Clinton’s disproportional lead among women voters _ on the anti-abortion plank.

Even as he debated his options, Dole sent strong signals to anti-abortion forces by naming Rep. Henry Hyde of Illinois, a longtime abortion opponent, to head the platform committee. From a political standpoint, Dole aides wanted to signal any proposed changes as early as possible, in an effort to calm any bitterness before the August convention.

Dole’s statement was immediately criticized by veteran anti-abortion activist Phyllis Schlafly and her Republican National Coalition for Life.

Colleen Parro, the group’s executive director, said there was no logic in stating principles if the platform went on to say those who disagreed were welcome. ``It’s the politics of meaninglessness,″ she said. ``We’re in a rhetorical revolving door.″

But the National Right to Life Committee, an organization more closely allied with Dole, accepted his proposed change. ``Our organization does not see this as retreat by Bob Dole. ... He wants Republicans who support abortion to still feel welcome in the party and we agree with that,″ said Carol Long, the committee’s political action director.

Dole cast his overture to voters who favor abortion rights as a stark contrast to President Clinton and his Democratic Party, which refused to let anti-abortion Democrats speak about the issue at their 1992 convention. The Democratic Party backs abortion rights.

``We Republicans must avoid the bitterness and intolerance of the Democratic Party that leads them to silence those who oppose their hardline views,″ said Dole. `` ... In the long term, I believe that only in this tolerant spirit can Americans ever come together to end the abortion tragedy _ not with anger and hatred, but with hope, compassion and humanity.″

As for Republicans who support abortion rights and want to remove the anti-abortion platform plank, Dole in his written statement noted these efforts ``to expand our appeal among Americans with different views. I agree with the goal, but not the method.″

One of these activists, California GOP Gov. Pete Wilson, appeared to suggest last week that an overture from Dole might head off a major platform battle. ``Some of us will go to San Diego as pro-choice delegates, some as pro-life delegates, but in the end we are all Bob Dole delegates,″ Wilson said.