Giuliani Tries to Clarify Abortion Stance

By Dan Balz and Sylvia Moreno
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, May 12, 2007

Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani yesterday sought to quell a growing controversy over abortion that has disrupted his presidential campaign. Restating his support for abortion rights, he asked Republican voters to look beyond that issue to the totality of his platform and record.

Giuliani called abortion "morally wrong" but said he nonetheless favors a woman's right to choose. "I am open to seeking ways of limiting abortions, and I am open to decreasing abortions," he told an audience at Houston Baptist University. "But I believe you have to respect their [women's] viewpoint and give them a level of choice. I would grant women the right to make that choice."

The speech came after a week of turmoil surrounding Giuliani's candidacy following a Republican presidential candidate debate in California in which he gave an ambiguous answer to a question about how he would feel if the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

His goal, as he stated yesterday, was to push the controversial issue -- which has put him at odds with much of the party's conservative base -- to the side in the battle for the Republican nomination. But his speech and recent statements left unanswered questions about how his views have changed over the course of nearly two decades as a political candidate and elected official.

Over that period, Giuliani has evolved from a political neophyte who favored overturning Roe to one who became so strongly identified with a woman's right to choose that he was seen as a standard bearer for the abortion rights movement in New York. Now, he has settled into a position of support for abortion rights, albeit with qualifications he once staunchly opposed.

His current posture has left past political allies and abortion rights supporters dismayed over what they regard as his backsliding. At the same time, he has hardly endeared himself to conservative activists who disagree with his overall support for abortion rights.

"I'm ashamed of him," said Fran Reiter, who was New York's deputy mayor for economic development and planning during Giuliani's first administration and was his 1997 reelection campaign manager. Reiter, a strong advocate of abortion rights, added: "I feel a certain betrayal."

Giuliani adviser Jim Dyke countered by saying, "His position doesn't fit into a sound bite or on a bumper sticker." Yesterday's speech, he added, was designed "to let people have a clear understanding of where he stands and what this pro-choice Republican would mean as president."

The arc of Giuliani's positions on abortion reflects conflicts that many Americans have felt on one of the most personal issues in politics -- conflicts heightened by the fact that Giuliani is both a devout Roman Catholic -- a religion adamantly opposed to abortion -- but also a politician from one of the most liberal cities in the country and where abortion rights are widely accepted by the public.

Still, his record, as gleaned from interviews with former advisers and allies and a review of newspaper articles and interview transcripts over the years, suggests that the issue will continue to follow him on the campaign trail.

Since leaving the mayor's office, he has changed position on such issues as the late-term abortions called "partial-birth" procedures by some, parental consent for minors and the Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal funding of abortions under Medicaid except in restricted circumstances. Nor is it clear what Giuliani would do as president if the court overturned Roe.

Campaign officials yesterday declined to entertain further questions about his current and past positions on abortion, as well as statements allegedly made to others on the subject, saying his Houston speech spoke for itself.

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