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GOP Base Rejects Pro-Choice Republicans: "We Would Never Bend On That"

First Posted: 06/15/09 06:12 AM ET Updated: 05/25/11 02:25 PM ET

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House Republicans, in search of an identity, are playing with fire.

Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), in charge of recruiting Republican candidates for the House, told Bloomberg that the party is searching for people who are "ethnically diverse, female, less partisan and even supportive of abortion rights."

Pro-life organizations have another word for such candidates -- pro-abortion -- and they're not happy to have them in the GOP tent. The Huffington Post didn't have to look far to find conservative groups threatening revolt over the move.

"I think it's dumb," said Joseph M. Scheidler, founder and head of the Pro-Life Action League. "If they start supporting pro-choice -- or pro-abortion -- candidates, they're going to really rile up their conservative base. We don't want pro-choice Republicans or Democrats, because we're issue-oriented, not party-oriented. We'd just as well have our own party."

That party's new branding offshoot, the National Council for a New America, isn't the kind of thing Scheidler has in mind. Bloomberg asked Minority Whip Eric Cantor (R-Va.) about the NCNA's willingness to listen to moderate voices, some of which are pro-choice, in policy debates.

"The essence of being a Republican is the belief in free markets, the belief in individual responsibility, the belief in the faith of the individual," he said. "This is what our party is about."

The best thing for the pro-life movement, Cantor spokesman Brad Dayspring told the Huffington Post, would be for Republicans to retake the majority.

"Mr. Cantor believes in life, is proud of his pro-life record, and believes that the most effective way for the pro-life movement to achieve its goals is for Republicans to win back the majority," he said in an e-mail. "He believes that effective and continued conversation about our values and principles inspires people to reconsider their opinions -- evidenced by the Gallup poll out today revealing that for the first time ever, the majority of Americans identify themselves as being pro-life, which he was extremely heartened by."

Michele Combs, a spokeswoman for the Christian Coalition, said she understood the idea of supporting candidates who don't agree with the GOP base on everything. But compromising on abortion? "You can agree with someone less than a hundred present of the time, but the life issue, we would never bend on that issue," she said. "We always support pro-life candidates."

Pro-life groups are in no mood to retreat, having celebrated the Gallup poll Cantor referred to, showing that 51 percent of Americans consider themselves "pro-life" while only 42 percent identify as "pro-choice." (Pro-choice advocates pushed deeper into the survey's data and noted that 76 percent of respondents said they think abortion should be legal in all or some circumstances, while only 22 percent thought it should be illegal. In other words, people said they generally opposed abortion but supported the right of a woman to choose to have one.)

The abortion issue has flared up this week as conservative groups protest President Obama's speech scheduled for Sunday at the University of Notre Dame.

That, said Scheidler, is the issue that drives the base. "They're going to lose their Republican constituency and they're not going to pick up the Democrat constituency, because Democrats for the most part don't vote on issues," he said.

Ryan Grim is the author of the forthcoming book This Is Your Country On Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America


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