Are pro-lifers ready to bargain with pro-choice Republican frontrunner Rudolph Giuliani? Noemie Emery recently made the case that they are, but last week the editors of the National Catholic Register said no deal.
The editorial expressed concern that “a pro-abortion Republican president would no longer preside over a pro-life party,” leaving millions of abortion opponents without a major party home. Whether this and other careful criticisms of the popular politician signal the beginning of a pro-life backlash against Giuliani may help decide the 2008 GOP presidential race.
So far there is little concrete evidence that Giuliani’s pro-choice position is hurting him either among Republican primary voters or the kind of conservative activists who attend events like CPAC. But a Wall Street Journal poll found something that should give America’s Mayor pause: “Fully three of four Republicans — including a majority of those backing the former New York City mayor — say they would have reservations if they learned Mr. Giuliani supports abortion rights and supports civil unions for gay and lesbian couples.” If those numbers are accurate, a deal might be farther away than it seems.
Giuliani began his public life as an opponent of abortion. As late as when he was competing for the Liberal Party’s ballot line in his unsuccessful first mayoral race, press accounts described him as pro-life and against Roe v. Wade. In August 1989, the New York Times reported that Giuliani was now unequivocally pro-choice, a shift that “represented the culmination of a struggle between the candidate who has consistently said he personally opposes abortions and his advisers who said he could not appeal to the general electorate with anything short of the ‘choice’ stand adopted by many other Roman Catholic politicians, like Gov. Mario M. Cuomo.”
Once Giuliani made this calculation, he never looked back. That November, he advocated taxpayer-subsidized abortion. A YouTube video shows Giuliani saying, “There must be public funding for abortion for poor women.” He also criticized then President George H.W. Bush for vetoing publicly funded abortions for the District of Columbia.
In his 1993 rematch with David Dinkins, Giuliani again campaigned as a pro-choice candidate. He opposed the Hyde Amendment, which forbids Medicaid financing of abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or when the mother’s life is in danger. According to excerpts of an internal campaign document posted on SmokingGun.com, his advisers believed his position on abortion was a major asset. “Simplicity is the best response to questions about abortion,” they wrote. “Giuliani is pro-choice. He supports public funding for abortion. He will continue city funding of abortions at city hospitals. Nothing more, nothing less.”
After he was elected mayor, Giuliani delivered on these campaign promises — and more. His 1994 and 1998 tax returns show $500 in donations to Planned Parenthood, the country’s largest abortion provider. In 1996, the mayor issued a proclamation declaring it “Planned Parenthood Day” in New York City and praising the group’s eugenicist founder, Margaret Sanger.
It wasn’t the last time Giuliani had kind words for Sanger. In April 2001, he gave a speech to the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League “Champions of Choice” luncheon, in which he extolled the “distinguished tradition” begun by the Planned Parenthood leader (no mention of human weeds). He thanked NARAL “for taking the lead in establishing freedom of choice for all of us.”
Giuliani even argued that a majority of Republicans are pro-choice and implied that the party platform should be changed. Being pro-choice while favoring lower taxes, he claimed, is “actually the more consistent position.” This undermines the argument that Giuliani is different from other pro-choice Republicans because he respects the basic pro-life character of the GOP.
Like Colin Powell thirteen years ago, Giuliani is a popular figure and compelling prospective nominee. But pro-lifers should think long and hard before they work to nominate and elect a Republican with an abortion record virtually indistinguishable from Hillary Clinton’s. There are many establishment Republicans — and even some conservatives — who would like nothing better than to ignore abortion and social issues. President Giuliani would strengthen their hand considerably.
How could pro-lifers ever object to any pro-choice candidate again — Republican or Democrat — if they overlook Giuliani’s current positions and past pronouncements?
There are counterarguments, of course. If Giuliani is the strongest GOP presidential candidate, he would help elect Republicans — many of them pro-life — in down-ballot races. Pro-lifers would get jobs in his administration; the fact that Giuliani has reversed himself on partial-birth abortion and promised to appoint originalist judges (which is necessary for any pro-life progress) shows he respects their influence. And all the viable alternatives to Giuliani come with their own problems.
Yet it is hard to see how that influence can be maintained if pro-life support can be bought with such minor concessions. There are many otherwise conservative judges who would nevertheless uphold Roe on stare decisis grounds; Giuliani has given no indication that he will go out of his way to find judges who favor its reversal. Republicans who want to end the pro-life litmus test generally favor making abortion a lower-priority issue. Why should pro-lifers help them?
Long before the first ballots have been cast, Giuliani is already developing an aura of inevitability. But that could change if more pro-lifers conclude that his candidacy is a raw deal. Make no mistake: There are many arguments that can be made for Rudy Giuliani. The contention that he has earned pro-life support just isn’t one of them.