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Republicans For Planned Parenthood: 'We're An Endangered Species'

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Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine)
Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine)

Kevin Curtis of Cazenovia, N.Y., a lifelong conservative and an elder in the Presbyterian church, describes himself as a "personal responsibility, personal freedom and personal decision-type Republican." He served as the co-chair of his local Republican party, read virtually all the same Ayn Rand novels as GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, and is now living off investments and paying for his family's health care -- the "take care of yourself" lifestyle people expect from conservatives, he says.

He's also on the board of the Rochester/Syracuse Planned Parenthood affiliate, and has financially supported the organization for nearly three decades.

"I feel sometimes like we're an endangered species," he told The Huffington Post in an interview. "There used to be more of us. It's interesting how the pendulum has swung in the direction of uber-conservative on social issues -- I don't think it reflects a big chunk of the party at all."

Curtis said he has remained relatively quiet about his involvement with Planned Parenthood, but Rep. Todd Akin's (R-Mo.) remark Sunday that victims of "legitimate rape" are unlikely to get pregnant inspired him to step out and speak his mind.

"I've written [the Republican National Committee] and expressed my utter disapproval of the platform being drafted," he said. "For them to include any kind of a personhood amendment -- a zygote is not a human being any more than a chestnut's a tree. And defunding Planned Parenthood is very bad economics -- it actually saves taxpayers money in future medical costs."

Randy Moody, national co-chair of Republicans for Planned Parenthood, echoed Curtis' sentiment. He was elected Republican County Chairman of Lancaster County, Pa, as a pro-choice Republican, but given the party's continued shift to the right, he doesn't think he'd have the same result today.

"Supporting abortion rights and reproductive health care is a traditional conservative philosophy, because it represents individual liberty and freedom of choice," he said. "But it's pretty hard now for anyone supportive of women's health and reproductive rights to hold a leadership position within the party. We have some officeholders who support reproductive rights, like [Rep.] Richard Hanna and [Sen.] Olympia Snowe, but I have to be candid and say that number has dwindled considerably."

Indeed, Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), one of a handful of pro-choice Republicans in Congress, wrote a letter to RNC chairman Reince Priebus on Tuesday lamenting the fact that the personhood amendment in the GOP platform alienates members like himself. "You can be pro-choice and still be a good Republican," he complained.

Back in the 1970s and 80s, pro-choice Republicans and Republican supporters of Planned Parenthood were not so scarce. President Richard Nixon was so enthusiastic about a federal family planning initiative for low-income women that he declared it a "national goal" in 1969, just before signing Title X into law. President George H.W. Bush earned the nickname "Rubbers" as a congressman for his passion for family planning. Even presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, as recently as 2002, attended Planned Parenthood fundraisers and sought the organization's endorsement.

Supporting Planned Parenthood as a Republican is not nearly as acceptable in 2012. Ten Republican-controlled state legislatures have voted to defund the family planning provider since 2010, numerous members of Congress have tried to zero out Title X funding for family planning, and Romney has pledged to "get rid of" federal Planned Parenthood funding as president.

Moody said Republicans for Planned Parenthood is heading to the Republican National Convention to try to moderate the policies in the party's platform. The group wants abortion taken out of the platform entirely, and public funding for family planning to be added in. It also wants the abstinence-only education plank replaced with one supporting comprehensive sex education.

So far, he said, "no one has tried to spit on me or throw me down the stairs" at the convention, but he expects attendees to be less friendly to the policies he's advocating this year than they were a decade ago.

"I'm hoping there will be a change in attitude," he said. "Some of the comments by the presidential nominee-to-be have not been helpful. What we're trying to do here is send another message that maybe they ought to reconsider, not only as public policy but also as a political statement, because women vote."

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