Abortion battle

A group of pro-choice Republicans vows a floor fight in Philadelphia over Bush's choice of Cheney.

Topics: Dick Cheney,

“Just once I’d like to see a ticket that I could be excited about,” said Susan Cullman, national co-chair of the Republican Pro-Choice Coalition. Settled in front of the television in a hotel suite, surrounded by her troops, Cullman had just watched George W. Bush debut Dick Cheney as the Republican vice presidential candidate — the very same Dick Cheney who, as a six-term congressman from Wyoming, boasted one of the most stalwart anti-abortion records on Capitol Hill.

For Cullman and the rest of the coalition, Bush’s decision to tap Cheney served as the disappointing end to a running mate search after he publicly elevated a number of pro-choice candidates, including Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge and New York Gov. George Pataki.

“[Cheney] even voted for a bill that would have defined a fetus as a person from the moment of conception!” said Lynn Grefe, the group’s national director, from one corner of the pink couch she shared with Cullman.

“From conception!” Cullman exclaimed. “That’s not even a fetus. Isn’t that a zygote?”

“What I want to know,” asked Mary Wright, a local Republican activist, “is, if a fetus is a person, can it own property?” Laughter erupted from the group of 12 or so people who crowded the room. From there, the list of potential fetal rights grew to the absurd as the group grew giddy, while Dr. LeRoy Carhart, the plaintiff in the case involving a Nebraska partial-birth abortion law which went to the U.S. Supreme Court last month, tried to suppress a smile.

Camped in Philadelphia as the GOP begins deliberations over its party platform, Cullman, Grefe and their comrades have come to town to lobby delegates to the platform committee in the hope of removing the party’s abortion plank, which calls for a constitutional amendment that would ban all abortion without exception. Though they’d prefer that their party simply take no position on abortion, they’d be happy to settle for a plank that stated the party’s respect for a range of positions, including pro-life and pro-choice. But even that seems a quixotic quest, since Bush appears poised to placate the party’s right wing by leaving the abortion language unchanged.

Quixotic or not, says Grefe, Bush’s choice of Cheney has invigorated her group for doing battle on the platform.

“Up until breakfast this morning, I thought it was all a creative ploy by the Bush campaign to divert attention while Bush considered others,” said Miranda Hooker, the 23-year-old state coordinator of the group’s Massachusetts chapter. “Now I see they’re just not that creative.”

While it’s unlikely that the Republican Pro-Choice Coalition can win its point in the platform hearings, the leadership of the Republican Party has begun to acknowledge that it can no longer shut out the pro-choice wing of the party. “They’ve been killing us with kindness,” says Grefe. “This is very different than last time. Four years ago, I felt like a leper.” Indeed, Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, chair of the platform committee, made a point of meeting with Grefe and Cullman two weeks ago, and Grefe refers to Thompson as “a great guy.”

As the result of a merger between Cullman’s Republican Coalition for Choice in Washington and Grefe’s Republican Pro-Choice Alliance of New York, the Republican Pro-Choice Coalition has raised $1 million so far this year, which she says will be used to spread the pro-choice gospel within the GOP.

It’s not just the group’s newfound fundraising prowess that sets Republican leaders on edge; there’s also Cullman’s reputation as a strategist. At the 1996 Republican National Convention in San Diego, Cullman came close to pulling off a floor fight over the platform language on abortion, which would have made for a messy scene on national television.

In order to bring an issue to the convention floor, six state delegations must band together to move on it. In ’96, Cullman had four delegations firmly in her camp — Maine, Massachusetts, California and Wyoming. Prior to the convention, New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, who led her state’s delegation, had made noises that seemed to indicate her willingness to jump into the fray. Smoke signals from Albany at the time indicated that, as went Whitman, so would go Gov. Pataki of New York.

But at the last minute, Whitman pulled back. Though she denied forbidding her delegates to join in the fight, former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Keane told a different story. When I interviewed him on the convention floor during Jack Kemp’s acceptance speech, Keane told me that the Jersey delegation had folded “because of the governor’s leadership.”

But Grefe is hoping to bring the fight to the floor of the convention this year. With a pro-life ticket, she says, “the platform offers the party its last chance” to show that it cares about the rights of women.

Adele M. Stan is AlterNet's Washington correspondent.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Beautiful Darkness by Fabien Vehlmann & Kerascoët
    Kerascoët's lovely, delicate pen-and-watercolor art -- all intricate botanicals, big eyes and flowing hair -- gives this fairy story a deceptively pretty finish. You find out quickly, however, that these are the heartless and heedless fairies of folk legend, not the sentimental sprites beloved by the Victorians and Disney fans. A host of tiny hominid creatures must learn to survive in the forest after fleeing their former home -- a little girl who lies dead in the woods. The main character, Aurora, tries to organize the group into a community, but most of her cohort is too capricious, lazy and selfish to participate for long. There's no real moral to this story, which is refreshing in itself, beyond the perpetual lessons that life is hard and you have to be careful whom you trust. Never has ugly truth been given a prettier face.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science by Philippe Squarzoni
    Squarzoni is a French cartoonist who makes nonfiction graphic novels about contemporary issues and politics. While finishing up a book about France under Jacques Chirac, he realized that when it came to environmental policy, he didn't know what he was talking about. "Climate Changed" is the result of his efforts to understand what has been happening to the planet, a striking combination of memoir and data that ruminates on a notoriously elusive, difficult and even imponderable subject. Panels of talking heads dispensing information (or Squarzoni discussing the issues with his partner) are juxtaposed with detailed and meticulous yet lyrical scenes from the author's childhood, the countryside where he takes a holiday and a visit to New York. He uses his own unreachable past as a way to grasp the imminent transformation of the Earth. The result is both enlightening and unexpectedly moving.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Here by Richard McGuire
    A six-page version of this innovative work by a regular contributor to the New Yorker first appeared in RAW magazine 25 years ago. Each two-page spread depicts a single place, sometimes occupied by a corner of a room, over the course of 4 billion years. The oldest image is a blur of pink and purple gases; others depict hazmat-suited explorers from 300 years in the future. Inset images show the changing decor and inhabitants of the house throughout its existence: family photos, quarrels, kids in Halloween costumes, a woman reading a book, a cat walking across the floor. The cumulative effect is serene and ravishing, an intimation of the immensity of time and the wonder embodied in the humblest things.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
    The legendary Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist delivers his debut graphic novel at 85, a deliriously over-the-top blend of classic movie noir and melodrama that roams from chiaroscuro Bay City to Hollywood to a USO gig in the Pacific theater of World War II. There's a burnt-out drunk of a private eye, but the story is soon commandeered by a multigenerational collection of ferocious women, including a mysterious chanteuse who never speaks, a radio comedy writer who makes a childhood friend the butt of a hit series and a ruthless dame intent on making her whiny coward of a husband into a star. There are disguises, musical numbers and plenty of gunfights, but the drawing is the main attraction. Nobody convey's bodies in motion more thrillingly than Feiffer, whether they're dancing, running or duking it out. The kid has promise.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Motherless Oven by Rob Davis
    This is a weird one, but in the nervy surreal way that word-playful novels like "A Clockwork Orange" or "Ulysses" are weird. The main character, a teenage schoolboy named Scarper Lee, lives in a world where it rains knives and people make their own parents, contraptions that can be anything from a tiny figurine stashable in a pocket to biomorphic boiler-like entities that seem to have escaped from Dr. Seuss' nightmares. Their homes are crammed with gadgets they call gods and instead of TV they watch a hulu-hoop-size wheel of repeating images that changes with the day of the week. They also know their own "death day," and Scarper's is coming up fast. Maybe that's why he runs off with the new girl at school, a real troublemaker, and the obscurely dysfunctional Castro, whose mother is a cageful of talking parakeets. A solid towline of teenage angst holds this manically inventive vision together, and proves that some graphic novels can rival the text-only kind at their own game.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    NOBROW 9: It's Oh So Quiet
    For each issue, the anthology magazine put out by this adventurous U.K.-based publisher of independent graphic design, illustration and comics gives 45 artists a four-color palette and a theme. In the ninth issue, the theme is silence, and the results are magnificent and full of surprises. The comics, each told in images only, range from atmospheric to trippy to jokey to melancholy to epic to creepy. But the two-page illustrations are even more powerful, even if it's not always easy to see how they pertain to the overall concept of silence. Well, except perhaps for the fact that so many of them left me utterly dumbstruck with visual delight.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Over Easy by Mimi Pond
    When Pond was a broke art student in the 1970s, she took a job at a neighborhood breakfast spot in Oakland, a place with good food, splendid coffee and an endlessly entertaining crew of short-order cooks, waitresses, dishwashers and regular customers. This graphic memoir, influenced by the work of Pond's friend, Alison Bechdel, captures the funky ethos of the time, when hippies, punks and disco aficionados mingled in a Bay Area at the height of its eccentricity. The staff of the Imperial Cafe were forever swapping wisecracks and hopping in and out of each other's beds, which makes them more or less like every restaurant team in history. There's an intoxicating esprit de corps to a well-run everyday joint like the Imperial Cafe, and never has the delight in being part of it been more winningly portrayed.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang and Sonny Liew
    You don't have to be a superhero fan to be utterly charmed by Yang and Liew's revival of a little-known character created in the 1940s by the cartoonist Chu Hing. This version of the Green Turtle, however, is rich in characterization, comedy and luscious period detail from the Chinatown of "San Incendio" (a ringer for San Francisco). Hank, son of a mild-mannered grocer, would like to follow in his father's footsteps, but his restless mother (the book's best character and drawn with masterful nuance by Liew) has other ideas after her thrilling encounter with a superhero. Yang's story effortlessly folds pathos into humor without stooping to either slapstick or cheap "darkness." This is that rare tribute that far surpasses the thing it celebrates.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Shoplifter by Michael Cho
    Corinna Park, former English major, works, unhappily, in a Toronto advertising agency. When the dissatisfaction of the past five years begins to oppress her, she lets off steam by pilfering magazines from a local convenience store. Cho's moody character study is as much about city life as it is about Corinna. He depicts her falling asleep in front of the TV in her condo, brooding on the subway, roaming the crowded streets after a budding romance goes awry. Like a great short story, this is a simple tale of a young woman figuring out how to get her life back, but if feels as if it contains so much of contemporary existence -- its comforts, its loneliness, its self-deceptions -- suspended in wintery amber.

    Ten spectacular graphic novels from 2014

    Through the Woods by Emily Carroll
    This collection of archetypal horror, fairy and ghost stories, all about young girls, comes lushly decked in Carroll's inky black, snowy white and blood-scarlet art. A young bride hears her predecessor's bones singing from under the floorboards, two friends make the mistake of pretending to summon the spirits of the dead, a family of orphaned siblings disappears one by one into the winter nights. Carroll's color-saturated images can be jagged, ornate and gruesome, but she also knows how to chill with absence, shadows and a single staring eye. Literary readers who cherish the work of Kelly Link or the late Angela Carter's collection, "The Bloody Chamber," will adore the violent beauty on these pages.

  • Recent Slide Shows



Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>