Anti-abortion conservatives are lining up behind an ultimatum to GOP presidential hopefuls: give up support for abortion rights or give up the race.
“Only a pro-life candidate will be nominated by the Republican convention,” Phyllis Schlafly said Saturday.
Hers was the same warning sounded last week by Christian Coalition Executive Director Ralph Reed who said religious conservative voters will not support the Republican ticket in 1996 if either candidate supports abortion rights.
Appearing with Schlafly on CNN’s “Newsmaker Saturday,” Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., was not cowed.
“It’s really a not-so-subtle form of blackmail,” said Specter, who supports abortion rights and is likely to seek the 1996 presidential nomination.
And with a warning of his own, Specter said some 43 percent of Republicans support abortion rights and Schlafly and Reed could destroy Republican chances to reclaim the White House if they persist.
“If we insist on excluding about half the party, it will give Bill Clinton his best chance - perhaps his only chance - to win,” said Specter.
Other moderates likely to seek a spot on the 1996 ticket include GOP governors William Weld of Massachusetts, Christine Todd Whitman of New Jersey and Pete Wilson of California.
None will be qualified for even the vice president’s slot, Schlafly said, without a clear denunciation of abortion.
“The delegates will not go for a mixed message,” she said of a possible split ticket.
While abortion was certain to become an issue in the 1996 GOP primaries, most party leaders hoped to avoid a divisive debate so early into the new Republican Congress.
But those hopes collapsed in the wake of Reed’s Feb. 10 speech to the Conservative Political Action Committee and the controversy over President Clinton’s choice for surgeon general.
Revelations that the nominee, Dr. Henry Foster, performed abortions tore open the abortion debate in the Senate, which must confirm him.
Schlafly said Foster’s performance of abortions, though legal, should disqualify him as the nation’s chief spokesman for public health.
“Gambling is legal in most states, but we don’t want a professional gambler as secretary of the Treasury,” she said.
But Specter said that, as long as abortion is lawful under the Constitution, Foster is entitled to a hearing on his full record. “On that matter, I’m prepared to go to the mat in his defense,” the senator said.
A Newsweek poll released Saturday shows Republicans almost evenly divided over the Foster nomination, with about a third (27 percent) giving Foster their “unqualified support” and another third (31 percent) opposing him.