SIMI VALLEY, Calif. (BP)–Would it be a good day for America if Roe v. Wade was overturned? All but one of the Republican candidates for president May 3 — former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani — said it would.
Giuliani’s pro-choice views stood out during the candidates’ first debate, held at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California. Leading in national polls, the former New York mayor was asked at least three times about his abortion views. If nominated, Giuliani would become the first pro-choice Republican nominee since Gerald Ford in 1976. Reagan, George H.W. Bush and the current President Bush were pro-life.
Moderator Chris Matthews posed the Roe v. Wade question — a reference to the 1973 decision legalizing abortion nationwide — to the entire 10-member panel, getting an “absolutely” answer from former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney if Roe was reversed. U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback said “it would be a glorious day of human liberty and freedom,” while former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore — who is pro-choice through the first eight to 12 weeks of pregnancy — responded with a “yes” and said Roe “was wrongly decided.” And on it went until the question got to Giuliani, who was ninth on stage.
“It would be OK to repeal,” Giuliani responded. “It would be OK also if a strict constructionist judge viewed it as precedent. I think a judge has to make that decision.”
Matthews then asked, “Would it be OK if they didn’t repeal it?”
“I think the court has to make that decision,” Giuliani answered, “and then the country can deal with it. We’re a federalist system of government, and states can make their own decisions.”
Later in the debate, Matthews asked Giuliani to clear up his views on abortion.
“This is a very, very difficult issue of conscience for many, many people. … I hate abortion,” Giuliani said. “I would encourage someone to not take that option. When I was mayor of New York City, I encouraged adoptions. Adoptions went up 65-70 percent. Abortions went down 16 percent. But, ultimately, since it is an issue of conscience, I would respect a woman’s right to make a different choice.”
Giuliani said he supports the Hyde Amendment, which prevents federal funds from being used for abortions. But he acknowledged that as mayor he supported a New York law that allowed government funds for abortions.
“I supported it in New York, but I think in other places people can come to a different decision,” he said.
The debate covered a host of cultural issues, including embryonic stem cell research, evolution and the church-state divide. But the discussion over abortion was a highlight, particularly among some of the leading candidates. Romney was asked to explain his journey from being pro-choice to pro-life.
“I’ve always been personally pro-life, but for me it was a great question about whether or not government should intrude in that decision,” he said. “And when I ran for office, I said I’d protect the law as it was, which is effectively a pro-choice position. [But] about two years ago when we were studying cloning in our state, I said, look, we have gone too far. It’s a Brave New World mentality that Roe v. Wade has given us, and I changed my mind. I took the same course that Ronald Reagan and George Herbert Walker Bush and Henry Hyde took, and I said I was wrong, and changed my mind and said I’m pro-life. I’m proud of that.”
The entire panel also was asked if as president they would support expanding federal funds for embryonic stem cell research, which requires the destruction of the embryo. Romney said he would support “altered nuclear transfer,” which he said would create “embryo-like cells” without destroying embryos.
“But I will not create new embryos through cloning or through embryo farming, because that would be creating life for the purpose of destroying it,” Romney said, adding he also would be opposed to using federal funds for use with excess embryos.
Brownback also said he would oppose additional funds.
“We are curing and healing people with adult stem cells,” he said. “It is not necessary to kill a human life for us to heal people.”
Gilmore responded, “We can’t create people in order to experiment with people.” Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee also said he opposed it, and former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson said alternative research was promising and that “you do not have to kill” embryos to have success.
U.S. Sen. John McCain, though, disagreed. “I believe we need to fund this,” he said. “This is a tough issue for those of us in the pro-life community.”
Giuliani’s answer was less than clear: “As long as we’re not creating life in order to destroy it, as long we’re not having human cloning … I would support it with those limitations, like Sen. [Norm] Coleman’s bill in Congress.” Coleman’s bill allows research on what are termed “naturally dead” embryos. Many pro-family leaders have not taken a stance on Coleman’s bill, unsure about the details and if it would be ethical.
On other issues:
— Three candidates raised their hand when the panel was asked if anyone did not believe in evolution. They were Huckabee, Brownback and U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo.
— Romney provided one of the night’s comical moments when he was asked what he would “say to Roman Catholic bishops who would deny communion to elected officials who support abortion rights.”
“I don’t say anything to Roman Catholic bishops,” he said to laughter. “They can do whatever the heck they want. Roman Catholic bishops are in a private institution — they’re a religion, and they can do whatever they want in a religion.”
— Huckabee, who is Southern Baptist, said his faith impacts all of his life.
“When a person says, ‘My faith doesn’t affect my decision-making,’ I would say that the person’s saying their faith is not significant enough to impact their decision process,” he said. “I tell people up front, my faith does affect my decision process. It explains me. No apology for that. My faith says, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'”
— Romney, McCain and Giuliani all said Congress should not have gotten involved in the dispute over the life of Terri Schiavo, the disabled woman who died in 2005 after her feeding tube was pulled. Romney said he supported involvement by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and the Florida legislature but thinks it was a “mistake” for the U.S. Congress to step in. McCain said “in retrospect” Congress “acted too hastily.” Giuliani said the issue should have been left up to the courts.
Brownback, though, said Congress was correct in acting.
“Yes, it should have, and it gave her the right and the family the right to take that appeal to the court,” he said. “… Her life is sacred — even if it’s in that difficult moment that she’s in at that point and time.”