SAN DIEGO -- In a major concession to his party's anti-abortion forces, Republican nominee-to-be Bob Dole approved a new abortion plank last night that all but eliminates tolerance language that he proposed earlier this year.
The new language -- which stripped the words "abortion" and "tolerance" from the plank -- virtually obliterates the original Dole proposal, which had been designed to attract more moderate women voters.
Members of the party's platform committee gave their initial endorsement to the proposal, with no real debate, following a day of heated, bicoastal negotiations in which Dole became personally involved.
Dole campaign officials said they were pleased with the outcome and expressed hope that this would remove the threat of a divisive abortion fight at next week's Republican National Convention here.
Leaders of several conservative organizations, including Phyllis Schlafly of the Eagle Forum and Ralph Reed of the Christian Coalition, took part in backstage talks with officials of the Dole campaign and the platform committee throughout the afternoon and early evening, going over the abortion language "line by line," as Reed put it.
When the day began, the anti-abortion forces were threatening to go to the floor of the convention, where as many as 20 state conventions are likely to be controlled by anti-abortion hard-liners, if their demands were not met. By nightfall, most of the leaders were ecstatic over the result.
"I really tip my hat to Senator Dole and his campaign," said Reed, the conservative Christian activist. "In the end, I think we got just about everything we sought."
Republicans who favor abortion rights, outnumbered on the platform committee and in the convention itself, were dejected.
"Dole looks like a man who is not in charge of his party," said Ann Stone, chairwoman of Republicans for Choice. She insisted the issue had not been settled for good, and vowed to take the fight to the full platform committee later this week.
Bay Buchanan, manager of her brother Patrick's presidential campaign, said she was very pleased, overall, with the content of the platform, which was released in draft form yesterday.
"On issue after issue, it is very, very Buchananesque," she said.
While acknowledging that Dole had caved in to the demands of anti-abortion forces, Buchanan warned that the victory could turn out to be temporary.
But Dole convention manager Paul Manafort declared that he was "very happy." The abortion fight, he declared, "is over now."
Republican and Dole campaign sources confirmed that Dole himself was personally involved in yesterday's negotiations, which were conducted by telephone from Washington by his campaign manager, Scott Reed, and by officials here.
As approved by Dole, the new plank makes no change in the party's tough 1992 anti-abortion position. That plank goes further than Dole himself in calling for a complete ban on abortion; Dole would allow abortion in cases of rape and incest and when the mother's life is at stake.
In June, Dole unveiled language which recognized that "tolerance is a virtue" and that Republicans have "deeply held and sometimes differing views on issues of personal conscience like abortion."
Under pressure from anti-abortion activists, Dole began to retreat. For instance, the phrase "personal conscience" was dropped because, in their view, a fetus has an inalienable right to life and the issue is not a matter of personal opinion. Anti-abortion leaders, who have held private strategy sessions for the past six weeks, then demanded that the word "abortion" be removed from the tolerance plank proposed by Dole. Yesterday, he complied.
For weeks, Dole wavered in the face of demands from anti-abortion hard-liners that the tolerance language be moved out of the abortion section of the platform and placed elsewhere, to weaken its impact.
In the end, he refused to give in. The proposal approved last night, which merely states that "members of our party have deeply held and sometimes differing views," was moved to the start of a platform section, which includes abortion.
When told that the Dole campaign was arguing that this decision represented a victory for abortion-rights forces, Stone of Republicans for Choice merely rolled her eyes.
"Some of the people who are pro-life want to take our party off the edge of the earth," Stone said earlier in the day, adding that "if a floor fight is what we need, we'll be able to go to the floor."
Privately, however, abortion-rights Republicans aren't sure they'll be able to come up with the votes they need to bring the issue to the floor. Under party rules, they would need the support of at least six state delegations, one of which is expected to be Maryland.
It wasn't immediately clear whether last night's action would achieve its desired result: a harmonious Republican National Convention here. The overarching goal of next week's event, organizers have said, is to have the party come across as more moderate and open, reversing the image of intolerance projected by the 1992 convention in Houston.
Abortion-rights groups are planning a demonstration Sunday in San Diego harbor, a flotilla of private boats bearing abortion-rights slogans.
Anti-abortion demonstrators were already at work yesterday, posting giant color photos of aborted fetuses in the plaza outside the meeting hall where the platform deliberations were taking place. "If The Babies Go, I Go," said a placard carried by a San Diego woman who identified herself only as Marcie.
"If the Republican Party takes the pro-life plank out, then I'm not a Republican any more," explained the Buchanan supporter, who predicted that a pro-life presidential candidate would emerge this fall if the Republicans abandon the abortion issue.
Pub Date: 8/06/96