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Jewish World Review Feb. 3, 2000 /30 Shevat, 5760

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez
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Which party is most 'out of touch'?

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- HERE'S A POLITICAL QUIZ: Which major political party is most out of step with the American people on the contentious issue of abortion? Which party has refused to allow elected officials who disagree with the party platform on abortion to address the party convention? In which party is it more dangerous for a presidential candidate to disagree, even slightly, with the party's platform?

The answer to all three is the Democratic Party. Surprised? Don't be. The fact is, the unpopularity of the Democrats' radical position on abortion is the best kept secret in American politics. For 20 years, the media has characterized the Republican Party's pro-life platform as extremist, while portraying the Democrats' position as mainstream. But public-opinion polls tell a different story.

First, neither party's platform represents the majority position on abortion. The Republicans oppose abortion in all circumstances, except to save the life of the mother. The Democrats favor a woman's absolute right to abortion at any time during pregnancy, for any reason whatsoever, including sex selection. Only about 20 percent of Americans hold views at these extremes of the abortion debate, and of these, somewhat more -- 13 percent -- agree with the Republican Party platform on the issue.

Most Americans are ambivalent on abortion. They don't necessarily want to ban abortion, but they do want limits on the procedure. In one recent poll -- paid for by a pro-abortion feminist organization, the Center for Gender Equality -- 70 percent of women said they favor more restrictions on abortion, including 40 percent who said they oppose all abortions except those performed to save the mother's life or in cases of rape and incest.

Other in-depth polls in recent years show 74 percent of Americans endorse mandatory 24-hour waiting periods; 73 percent support prohibition of abortion after the first three months of pregnancy, except to save the mother's life; and 74 percent favor parental-consent requirements for pregnant minors. Moreover, support for restrictions on abortion has been going up in the last several years.

So, if most Americans want to restrict access to abortion -- even if they don't want to outlaw abortion outright, as the Republicans favor -- why is it the Democrats get such a free ride on this issue? Perhaps, it's because the Democrats' position seems the more tolerant one. But in reality, the Democratic Party is anything but tolerant on the abortion debate.

Democrats, after all, are the ones who kept a pro-life Democratic governor, Robert Casey from Pennsylvania, from addressing their national convention in 1992. And as Al Gore can attest, any Democrat who hopes to win his party's presidential nomination had better toe the line 100 percent on abortion.

Last week, Gore found himself having to defend his abortion voting record in Congress. Like most Americans -- more than 80 percent, according to the polls -- Al Gore opposed federal funding of abortions when he was a member of Congress. He voted pro-life 84 percent of the time he served in the House of Representatives, according to the National Right-to-Life Committee. In 1977, he even supported an amendment that said abortion "takes the life of an unborn child who is a living human being," a view held by a plurality of Americans, 46 percent.

But Gore thinks he can't win his party's nomination if he is perceived as even slightly hesitant on a woman's absolute right to abortion at any time, under any circumstances, for whatever reason. So, not only has he changed his position to be in lock step with the party's platform, but he's denied that he ever had any qualms about the issue. Last week, in New Hampshire, Gore contended, "I've always supported Roe vs. Wade. I have always supported a woman's right to choose," despite votes and statements to the contrary.

Apparently, Al Gore would rather lie about his record than have to defend a position that puts him in the mainstream of public opinion, so fearful is he that his party will deny him the nomination if he shows any ambivalence.

"This is not an issue you can straddle. You can't be on both sides; you have to decide which side you're on," Gore's opponent Bill Bradley warned him repeatedly in New Hampshire. Well, maybe not if you're a Democratic candidate.

But most Americans find themselves right smack in the middle on this issue, regardless of what the Democratic Party insists.


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