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GOP chooses choice?


Maybe in an alternate universe, the Republican Party is made up of pro-choice tree-huggers who favor raising taxes for federally funded social programs.

            One group of GOP activists, however, claims at least one of these precepts to be true right here on Earth.

            According to the newly renamed Republican Majority for Choice, three out of every four Republicans are pro-choice.

            That's three out of every four registered members of the party of ardent, passionate pro-lifers such as House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Mississippi Senator Trent Lott, Attorney General John Ashcroft, and US President George W. Bush. Three out of four of the base voting block who put these men in power supposedly favor individual choice on the abortion issue.

            "I think that's fantasy, sheer fantasy," said Henrietta Supervisor Jim Breese, a Republican who is skeptical, to say the least, of the group's claims.

            "If anything, it's the other way around," he said.

Republican Majority for Choice based its findings on a nationwide poll conducted in May.

            The group believes the anti-abortion stance of the Republican Party is the result of "social extremists" who spend inordinate sums of money to impose their "ideological zealotry" on the GOP, according to a letter distributed to voters last month.

            In the spring, Majority for Choice commissioned American Viewpoint, a conservative opinion research company based in Virginia, to conduct the nationwide survey.

            "We asked the question, 'Regardless of how you personally feel about the issue of abortion, do you feel a woman, her family, and her doctor should make the decision whether or not she should have an abortion, or should the government?'" says American Viewpoint Vice-President Bob Carpenter.

            Of the respondents, Carpenter said 73 percent chose "a woman, her family, and her doctor" while only 13 percent chose "the government." The rest were undecided or didn't know.

            American Viewpoint surveyed 1,006 adults throughout the country, roughly the same number of respondents used by organizations such as Gallup. In addition to the 73 percent of Republicans who say the choice should remain with the woman, 61 percent of GOP respondents said that while they themselves might not choose abortion, they would not take that right away from other women, according to Carpenter's findings.

"There has always been a 'silent' Republican majority for choice," says the group's co-chair, Jennifer Blei Stockman. "Moderate Republicans and many conservatives across America want to bring the GOP traditions of less government, personal freedom, and privacy to the top of our party's agenda."

            When it comes to the abortion debate, however, it appears, at least from what local Republicans are saying, the group has a rocky road ahead.

            "It's just propaganda," says Chili Supervisor and former Monroe County Legislator Tracy Logel, another local Republican who doubts the veracity of the survey's findings. "I find that very surprising, I don't think it's true," she says.

            Logel calls the study an "insidious infiltration" by a minority of pro-choice activists who had "gone too far."

            "I think it's a very deceptive way to drum up support for their side, using deceptive information," she says, adding that the group's agenda is simply to "get [the study] in print and get people to believe it."

            Majority for Choice's national headquarters are in Washington, DC, though there is a state office in New York City. Among the members the group lists on its advisory committee are New York Governor George Pataki, former President Gerald Ford, and Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter.

            Locally, Congressman Amo Houghton is listed on the 33-member committee. (Calls made to his offices were not returned as of press time.)

            The group describes itself as a nationwide organization of Republicans who subscribe to the party's traditional principles of individual liberty. On social issues, the group endorses the "big tent" philosophy of "inclusion and tolerance on social issues," according to its website.

            "We support the protection of Roe v. Wade and want to ensure that the right to choose is personal and NOT political," the site states.

            Majority for Choice believes a false impression of an anti-abortion majority within the GOP exists because of a combination of factors. Chief among them: the Democratic Party's maneuvering to create the impression it is the exclusive party for pro-choice voters, and the Republican Party's fear of alienating its morally conservative base.

            "We are in the majority, we are in the right, and we stand for the traditional values of the Republican Party," the group states in its fund-raising letter.

Majority for Choice received some attention earlier this year for its assistance in a tough primary battle between Specter and a more conservative Republican challenger, Pennsylvania Congressman Ray Toomey. In a rare in-party challenge to a sitting US Senator, Toomey attacked Specter as being too liberal, citing his pro-choice stance as evidence. Specter won the April primary by two percentage points.

            The group touts Specter's win, as well as last year's election of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, another pro-choice Republican, as evidence of its growing appeal.

            "A clear majority of Republicans believe that the widest array of reproductive health choices should be available, including education, prevention, motherhood, abstinence, adoption, and safe, legal abortion," Stockman says.

            Still, a close primary victory in a swing-state and a gubernatorial election in a highly Democratic region does not a majority make, and local Republicans willing to discuss the survey were not ready to jump on the pro-choice bandwagon just yet.

            "I don't believe a word of it," Breese says of the group's assertions. "I've been around Republican Party politics for a long time, long enough to know it's not true. The national Republican Party is strongly pro-life."