Republicans in bid to repair rift as abortion returns to US agenda

Abortion is back on the US political agenda, with a damaging public split in the Republican Party and old arguments rekindled by the 25th anniversary of the judgment that made abortion a constitutional right. Even as the arguments rage, however, Mary Dejevsky in Washington finds signs that the tide of opinion may be turning.

The National Committee of the Republican Party, which approves policy and controls funds, was set for a bitter debate at its annual meeting in California yesterday, the like of which had not been seen in years. The issue was whether party funds should be used to support election candidates who do not subscribe to the party's out-and-out opposition to "partial birth abortion" - a technique for late abortion that critics regard as a particularly cruel form of infanticide.

Party policy is to have the procedure outlawed and two bills have been passed by Congress, only to be vetoed by President Clinton. Public opinion polls find that more than 80 per cent of Americans oppose the procedure. Pictures provided by lobbyists are gruesome.

A small minority of Congressmen and candidates on the liberal wing of the party, however, regard the hue and cry as the thin end of the anti- abortion wedge - a means of eventually drumming up enough support to remove women's right to abortion altogether - and steadfastly refuse to condemn it.

Last month, ardent foes of abortion petitioned the party's National Committee to have these "dissidents" deprived of central campaign funds, a sanction that could would impair, if not ruin, their election prospects. With the mid-term congressional elections to be held this autumn, the sanction was a real threat.

The campaign got up a head of steam before the Republican Party leadership sounded the alarm. The result was an emergency propaganda blitz appealing for party unity- inclusion not exclusion.

They argued that making attitudes to partial birth abortion a "litmus test" for obtaining central funds laid the party open to lobbying on other issues. How about a "litmus test" on other issues, like free trade? A litmus test for donors? There were whispers of Stalinism, democratic centralism and thought dictatorship. For the more traditional, patrician (and shrinking) wing of the party, there was the further consideration that abortion - even such a repellent practice as partial birth abortion - was a matter for individual conscience, not party politics.

Behind these objections, however, were other, practical, ones. A number of prominent congressional and local Republican candidates could risk defeat, not only because of inadequate funding, but because in some constituencies "pro-choice" voters might switch to the rival Democrat. Unspoken was the further consideration that the women's vote - which already favours the Democrats - could decline further. By yesterday, with television advertisements calling for Republican "inclusiveness" still running, the funding motion was confidently expected to fail, but it was a close call.

This defeat, and the practical considerations behind it, reinforced an impression that the vicious passion that has for so long fuelled the abortion debate in America may be starting to wane, along with the role of fundamentalist Christian movements in US politics.

Opinion polls conducted for the 25th anniversary of Roe v Wade - the Supreme Court ruling that gave US women the constitutional right, albeit limited, to an abortion - suggest something similar.

Although lobbyists on both sides use the polls, for their own reasons, to show that anti-abortion sentiment has hardened, this is not the whole story. The polls also show solid public support for the view that abortion should be a legal right. In other words, increased public censure co-exists with acceptance - an acceptance that could not be taken for granted 25 years ago.

The anniversary of Roe v Wade falls next week, and lobbyists on both sides have been enthusiastically fighting the old fights. But the real fear that stalked abortion clinics seems recently to have dissipated. Abortion doctors were unworried enough about their safety to hold an anniversary dinner dance last weekend.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
News
i100
News
people
Sport
Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho
footballThe more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Life and Style
Vote green: Benoit Berenger at The Duke of Cambridge in London's Islington
food + drinkBanishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turn over a new leaf
News
Joel Grey (left) poses next to a poster featuring his character in the film
peopleActor Joel Grey comes out at 82
News
i100
News
business
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing & Sales Manager

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A reputable organisation within the leisure i...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Recruitment Genius: Doctors - Dubai - High "Tax Free" Earnings

£96000 - £200000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Looking for a better earning p...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer

£32000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A rapidly expanding company in ...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee