11/14/2007 11:23 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Giuliani, Pro-Choice?

"Pro-abortion rights" is not exactly the first term that comes to mind when I think of a politician who promises to appoint more Supreme Court justices like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. But that's exactly how The New York Times described Rudy Giuliani (11/11/07) in a recent Week in Review article. And even NPR (Morning Edition, 11/13/07) -- the public radio network the right would have us believe is a bastion of liberalism -- called Giuliani "a strong supporter of abortion rights in the past."

This notion that Giuliani is pro-choice is the target of a FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) media advisory that takes particular issue with a spate of recent New York Times articles. As FAIR wrote,

A November 4 New York Times story, for example, declared that Giuliani "has made no serious effort to shade his positions to appeal to the social conservatives." The same day, a Times analysis of political flip-flopping made the same point, oddly claiming that Giuliani's "refusal to budge from his vocal support for abortion rights has strengthened his image as being steadfast, even as he has shifted in other areas."

But it's wrong to call Giuliani "pro-choice" or a "supporter of abortion rights." Giuliani currently supports parental notification laws and a ban on so-called "partial birth" abortion (the dilation-and-extraction abortion method) -- positions that put him sharply at odds with the pro-choice movement. Moreover, as the Times itself reported (2/10/07), "He has talked about how he would appoint 'strict constructionist' judges to the Supreme Court -- what abortion rights advocates say is code among conservatives for those who seek to overturn or limit Roe v. Wade, the 1973 court ruling declaring a constitutional right to abortion." Giuliani has suggested (Union Leader, 11/5/07) he would nominate justices similar to Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Samuel Alito.

FAIR pointed out that the Times articles hailed Giuliani's purported pro-choice position as representing:

consistency in the face of a largely anti-choice GOP base, and a sign that Republican voters are pragmatic enough to accept a pro-choice nominee.

Yet In reality,

"Giuliani's positions on abortion have been all over the map":

When Giuliani first began running for New York City mayor in 1989, seeking support of both the Republicans and the minor Conservative Party, conservative leaders reported that "he assured them he was personally opposed to abortion, did not favor government funding or criminal penalties, did favor an exemption in cases of rape or incest, and was in favor of overturning the U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing abortion, Roe v. Wade" (New York Newsday, 2/22/89). " opposed to abortion and even the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion," The New York Times reported (New York Times, 4/6/89).

Later, he pledged that ''I would not take a leadership role, supporting or opposing abortion"; asked what his position was by The New York Times (7/4/89), "Giuliani said he was personally opposed to abortion, did not favor government financing for abortion and had believed that the Roe v. Wade decision should be overturned," though he "would 'preserve, protect and defend all constitutional and legal rights, including a woman's right of choice,'' as long as the state law remained unchanged. But he did not say a woman should have a fundamental right to an abortion."

A month later, with the general election approaching, Giuliani's campaign issued a "clarification" (New York Times, 8/4/89):

As mayor, Rudy Giuliani will uphold a woman's right of choice to have an abortion. Giuliani will fund all city programs which provide abortions to insure that no woman is deprived of her right due to an inability to pay. He will oppose reductions in state funding. He will oppose making abortion illegal. Although Giuliani is personally opposed to abortion, his personal views will not interfere with his responsibilities as mayor.

Giuliani lost the mayoral election in 1989, thanks in part to incumbent David Dinkins' criticisms of his flip-flops on the abortion issue (UPI, 11/4/89). He ran again successfully in 1993 with much the same abortion line that he had at the end of the 1989 campaign (though by '93, he was openly describing himself as "pro-choice" (New York Times, 9/30/93).

Conservative evangelist Pat Robertson's endorsement of Giuliani -- a subject of recent news headlines -- makes a lot more sense in the context of Giuliani's actual historical record on the abortion issue. After all, FAIR pointed out,

Robertson declared when issuing his endorsement that Giuliani's assurances about the judges he would appoint to the Supreme Court were what mattered most (L.A. Times, 11/8/07). This is, by any reasonable measure, what actually matters; how Giuliani feels personally about abortion rights is far less important than what he would do as a president nominating Supreme Court justices. That's a basic political fact that GOP voters seem to understand better than mainstream media political reporters.