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The Republican Plank on Abortion
Political Junkie
Send your questions about campaigns and elections.

By Ken Rudin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, February 2, 2001

Question: In light of the current fracas over John Ashcroft, when did the Republican party first embrace their current anti-abortion plank for their convention platforms? Was it in 1980, or prior to that? Did the Republicans ever have a pro-choice plank in their platform? By the way, I love your column. I wish it were daily! Has anyone approached you about compiling the best questions and answers into book form? I would surely buy a copy. – Kaley Davis, Seattle, Wa.

As with Ashcroft, the nation is split over abortion. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
Answer: The Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, which liberalized the right to an abortion, moved the issue to the political forefront. Since then, the Republican National Convention – which until then had all but ignored the issue – has had anti-abortion language in its platform. In the 1976 convention platform, abortion language took up a mere paragraph. It said that while it is "undoubtedly a moral and personal issue," it "protested" the Court's "intrusion into the family structure." The party "supports the efforts of those who seek enactment of a constitutional amendment to restore protection of the right to life for unborn children." A minority plank to delete abortion language was defeated by voice vote on the convention floor.

By 1980, nominee Ronald Reagan, a strong conservative, had full control of the convention and the platform. That year's document "affirm[ed] our support of a constitutional amendment to restore protection of the right to life for unborn children. We also support the Congressional efforts to restrict the use of taxpayers' dollars for abortion. . . . We will work for the appointment of judges at all levels of the judiciary who respect traditional family values and the sanctity of innocent human life." That year, pro-abortion rights Republicans were not even able to bring a minority plank to the floor for a vote. Sen. Charles Percy (R-Ill.) called the abortion language regarding the choosing of judges "the worst plank I have ever seen in any platform in the Republican party." Mary Dent Crisp, the party's national co-chair and an outspoken abortion-rights supporter, was unceremoniously replaced at the convention. Even Reagan's running mate, George Bush, muzzled his long-held opposition to a constitutional amendment banning abortion.

See also: Wade-ing in on Abortion (Oct. 22, 1999).

Question: I know that although President Bush lost the nationwide popular vote, he won the electoral vote and also the popular vote in 30 of the 50 states. Do you know the total number of counties or congressional districts Bush and Gore each won nationwide? – Larry Davis, Okinawa, Japan

Answer: I have not seen a figure on congressional districts. But according to early data compiled by Election Data Services, Bush carried 2,477 counties, compared to 676 for Gore.

Question: I did not see former President Ford at George W. Bush's inauguration. One commentator said he has completely recovered from the stroke he suffered this past summer. Do you know why he was not there? – Bob Brewer, Chicago, Ill.

Answer: Ford, who is 87, has recovered from the stroke he suffered at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. And his spokesperson, Penny Circle, said that Ford is "close to the Bush family and would have liked to have gone." But, she added, "Following [his] medical situation in August, he was advised by doctors to travel less. With making connections and weather delays and all, he decided not to go."

Question: Have any of Joseph Kennedy's descendants ever lost a general election race for any public office? – Michael Kalk, Austin, Tex.

Answer: One. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, daughter of the late Robert Kennedy, was defeated by Rep. Helen Bentley (R) in a 1986 Maryland congressional contest.

Question: Given his considerable family tradition and political history, why has Senator Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) never run for president? (And if he has, please forgive me, as I am 20 years old and am only just starting to have an interest in political history.) – William Haney, Oklahoma City, Okla.

Kennedy's challenge to Carter was doomed from the start. (Collection of Ken Rudin)
Answer: Kennedy did run for president, in 1980, the year of your birth. Ever since Robert Kennedy was assassinated while seeking the 1968 Democratic nomination, there had been tremendous pressure on Ted to run for the office. In 1972, party leaders pleaded for him to take on President Nixon. In 1976, they urged him to challenge President Ford. Each time he said no. One reason for his hesitancy, of course, may be traced to the July 1969 incident in which Mary Jo Kopechne, an ex-RFK campaign worker, drowned after a car Ted was driving went over a bridge into a pond on Chappaquiddick Island near Martha's Vineyard. Kennedy left the scene of the accident and didn't report it until nine hours later. But it never affected him at home, and national polls indicated in '72 and '76 that he would be the overwhelming favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Ironically, the one time he got into the race, it was against a sitting Democratic president. He took on Jimmy Carter for the 1980 nomination, and many people, including then-Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill, said the nomination was Kennedy's for the asking. He would run on health care, on the rising unemployment, on the oil crisis, on Carter's "lack of leadership." But it never came to be. Kennedy's coming-out party was essentially an interview he did with CBS News' Roger Mudd that aired in November of '79, in which he basically was unable to give a coherent reason for his candidacy. From there followed a listless campaign in the primary and caucus states, battling a White House-glued president who played the "I'm-not-going-to-go-partisan-until-our-hostages-are-released" game. With the nation rallying behind Carter, Kennedy was doomed.

It wasn't until later in the spring when Kennedy recovered his voice, at a time when voters were realizing that Carter was no closer to getting the hostages freed than he was when they were taken. But by then it was too late. President Carter was renominated on the first ballot. The high point for Kennedy came in a concession speech before the convention delegates at Madison Square Garden, in which he concluded, "For all those whose cares have been our concern, the work goes on, the cause endures, the hope still lives and the dream shall never die."

Got a question? Ask Ken Rudin: junkie@washingtonpost.com

Ken Rudin, political editor at National Public Radio, is also the creator of washingtonpost.com's ScuttleButton contest.

© Copyright 2001 Ken Rudin

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