WASHINGTON -- Appearing to confirm long-standing suspicions that she supports abortion rights, Barbara Bush says she thinks abortion is a matter of "personal choice" and the Republican Party platform should take no position on the issue "either pro or con."
Mrs. Bush, who has resolutely refused to discuss her views on abortion, made the comment in an interview set for publication on the eve of next week's convention in Houston.
In the interview, conducted Wednesday with newsmagazine reporters, Mrs. Bush was asked if she thought the anti-abortion plank was wrong. "I'm not being outspoken or pro or con abortion. I'm saying abortion should not be in there, either pro or con," she responded.
Mrs. Bush was then pressed to say whether she believes abortion and homosexuality are issues of personal preference, according to apartial transcript of the interview released last night by U.S. News and World Report.
"Indeed they are," she interjected. ". . . It's a personal choice, is what I'm saying, personal thing. The personal things should be left out of, in my opinion, out of platforms and conventions."
The platform draft approved yesterday in Houston calls for a constitutional amendment to ban abortion. An attempt to delete all references to abortion, as Mrs. Bush has suggested, was soundly defeated, 84-16.
Her remarks, on the heels of President Bush's statement this week that he would stand by a granddaughter if she chose to have an abortion, are likely to prompt further charges that Mr. Bush is trying to have it both ways on the issue.
In fact, Mrs. Bush indicated that she differs with the staunch anti-abortion view of Marilyn Quayle, the vice president's wife, who said recently she would see to it that her teen-age daughter carried a child to term, rather than allow her the option of an abortion.
"I mean, that's what's big about our party," Mrs. Bush said, going on to note that the law gives a pregnant 18- or 21-year-old an absolute right to choose abortion.
In preparing for next week's convention, Mrs. Bush spent much of the last two days giving interviews, taking off the grandmotherly gloves and tossing grenades at the news media, Bill Clinton and even the head of the Republican Party.
Talking with a group of reporters at the White House yesterday, an uncharacteristically feisty and caustic first lady deplored comments made Wednesday by Republican National Chairman Richard N. Bond in which he assailed Hillary Clinton.
"I don't like it," Mrs. Bush said of Mr. Bond's sharp attack on the wife of the Democratic nominee. "I'm not going to lie to you about that. . . . She's not running for office.
" . . . I don't like that kind of campaigning. When you have a superb candidate of your own, I don't think you need to knock other people. And if you're going to knock, you ought to knock the other person running." Mrs. Bush said the last few days, in which her husband was asked to respond to long-standing rumors that he had an extramarital affair, had been, if not the worst of times for her personally, then an "all-time low" in politics.
She said she also found "disgusting" the media's coverage of Mr. Clinton's alleged infidelity. But minutes later, in charging that the media are biased against her husband, she added that the news media were justified in probing Mr. Clinton's personal life as they did during the primary season. "Mr. Clinton had some problems," she said. "Mr. Bush doesn't." As for allegations of womanizing, Mrs. Bush said of the Arkansas governor: "He never denied he had a fling, did he?"
But in discussing the role of the first lady, Mrs. Bush managed her own dig -- this one a polite, veiled one -- at Mrs. Clinton, who's alienated some voters by suggesting a sort of co-presidency with her husband.
While saying there shouldn't be any parameters to the first lady's role, Mrs. Bush added, "I think if you're clever, you have to remember that the voter does care. They think they're electing either the man or woman who is president. Not the spouse."