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.
The distance Giuliani has traveled over his political career is underscored by where he stood as he was beginning his first bid for mayor of New York. The July 4, 1989, edition of the New York Times reported it this way:
"In an interview yesterday, Mr. Giuliani said he was personally opposed to abortion, did not favor government financing for abortion and had believed that the Roe v. Wade decision should be overturned. At the same time, he said he would 'preserve, protect and defend all constitutional and legal rights, including a woman's right of choice,' as long as the state law remained unchanged. But he did not say a woman should have a fundamental right to an abortion."
Today he is in a different place, although one in which his emphasis continues to shift. In an interview in April with The Post, he said, "This is a constitutional right that has to be accepted." At the recent Republican debate, Giuliani said it would be "okay" if the court overturned Roe, but also okay if the court upheld it.
Reiter was an unpaid adviser during the 1989 campaign. She said that Giuliani had never thought about abortion as a public policy issue until he challenged mayoral candidate David Dinkins. Personally opposed to abortion, he did not see it as a mayoral issue and hoped it would not become part of his campaign debate.
That hope ended when the Supreme Court, in Webster v. Reproductive Health Services , ruled that states could begin to consider restrictions on abortion. At that point, with help from Reiter, Jennifer Raab, the campaign's policy director and now president of Hunter College, and his then-wife, Donna Hanover Giuliani, he began to formulate a policy position. He emerged as an unequivocal advocate for abortion rights.
Dinkins called his rival a flip-flopper, but Reiter said: "It wasn't a flip-flop. The man had never taken a public position on abortion."
Giuliani narrowly lost that 1989 race. When he returned for a rematch with Dinkins in 1993, there was no difference in the two candidates' positions. "This was a man who was an absolute friend and ally," said Kelli Conlin, president of the New York state affiliate of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
This week, the New York group made available copies of Giuliani's 1997 NARAL questionnaire, which show just how strongly he endorsed the group's full agenda.
At that time, Giuliani said he supported Medicaid funding for abortions "without any restrictions." At last week's Republican presidential debate in California, when he was asked why he supported public funding for abortions, he replied: "I don't. I support the Hyde Amendment. I hate abortion. I wish people didn't have abortions."
But in June 1993, when Giuliani spoke to more than 800 women and endorsed abortion rights without restrictions, the campaign distributed leaflets saying that he opposed the Hyde Amendment, according to the New York Times.
In yesterday's speech, Giuliani explained that he had early reservations about the Hyde Amendment, but said, "It works, there is no reason to change it." But he said he supported the right of states to provide such funding. Conlin called that position "incongruous."
On the 1997 questionnaire, Giuliani said he opposed legislation that would restrict minors from receiving abortions without first notifying a parent or that would restrict a minor from having an abortion without obtaining permission "from a parent or from a court."
"There was never an ounce of doubt for his support for our position on that issue," Conlin said. But when asked during an interview with Fox News last Feb. 5 -- the day he filed his declaration of candidacy for the White House -- where he stood on parental choice, Giuliani said, "I think you have to have a judicial bypass."
When the "partial-birth" issue first arose, Giuliani strongly opposed banning the procedure. He defended then-President Bill Clinton for vetoing a bill barring late-term abortions. As he was getting ready to run for the Senate against Hillary Rodham Clinton in 2000, he refused to change his position on the issue of late-term abortions, though it would have cost him the endorsement of the Conservative Party in New York.
But when the court upheld the ban on the procedure last month, Giuliani's campaign put out a statement that said, "The Supreme Court reached the correct conclusion in upholding the congressional ban on partial birth abortion. I agree with it." He said yesterday, "My position on that evolved."
Giuliani said yesterday that, if he were asked by a friend or relative who was considering an abortion, "I would tell them not to have the abortion, to have the child and if nothing else, the adoption option exists and it's one that I would help you with." Conlin said she recalled a conversation in which Giuliani told her that if his daughter had an unintended pregnancy and wanted an abortion, he would "help her through that."
Conlin described the shift in Giuliani's positions on issues such as public funding and late-term abortions as beyond flip-flopping. "It's like whiplash following his statements on the issue," she said.
In Houston yesterday, Giuliani asked voters to look past abortion in judging his candidacy. As in 1989, when he first learned there was no way to avoid the politically volatile issue, he may find again that, despite his appeal, it will continue to dog his campaign for the GOP nomination.
Moreno reported from Houston. Staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.