Analysis: Pro-Choice View Tests Giuliani

The Associated Press
Wednesday, May 9, 2007; 9:45 PM

WASHINGTON -- Presidential hopeful Rudy Giuliani has always been known as a rare-breed Republican who favors abortion rights.

As he seeks the GOP nomination in a party dominated by anti-abortion voters, the question is whether his stance that played so well in liberal New York City hurts his candidacy _ or whether his message of fiscal conservatism and a strong defense will override social conservatives' concerns.

"I hate abortion. I would encourage someone to not take that option," the former mayor said last week during the first GOP presidential debate. "But ultimately, since it is an issue of conscience, I would respect a woman's right to make a different choice."

Lately, Giuliani has struggled to square what he calls his personal opposition to terminating pregnancies with his long record of support for a woman's right to choose. He has been forced to defend his positions _ and some seeming equivocations _ on a late-term abortion procedure, public funding for abortions and the 1973 landmark Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion.

There's no doubt he will have to answer questions about those issues again during a GOP debate next week in South Carolina.

In Simi Valley, Calif., last week, Giuliani was alone among 10 Republicans at the first debate who offered a less-than-robust affirmation when asked whether it would be a good day if the Supreme Court overturned the Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion.

"It would be OK," Giuliani said. "It would be OK to repeal it."

But, he added: "It would be OK also if a strict constructionist viewed it as precedent" and kept the law intact.

The convoluted answer surprised GOP strategists and nonpartisan analysts alike. They argued that the cloudy response threatened to undercut Giuliani's overarching claim to be the strong leader the nation needs, and that the candidate needed to be clear about his longtime abortion-rights stance.

"If he embraces his position, it will be less damaging, I think, than if he tries to use variations on a theme," said Costas Panagopoulos, a Fordham University political science professor.

Added Greg Mueller, a conservative GOP strategist who is unaligned in the race, "You don't look like a leader when you take both sides of an issue."

Among the top Republican contenders, only Sen. John McCain of Arizona has a clear record opposing abortion. On Monday, he said a Republican candidate who favors abortion rights faces long _ but not impossible _ odds in winning the nomination.

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