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RNC chair’s abortion comments draw fire

Updated 5:23 p.m. Eastern

WASHINGTON (BP)–New Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele says he’s pro-life, but comments he made about abortion during an interview with GQ magazine have left some social conservatives wondering.

Steele, who received mostly positive reviews from social conservative leaders when he got the position and who has described himself as pro-life, told the magazine that he believes Roe v. Wade was “wrongly decided” but that abortion also is an “individual choice.” During his 2006 run for an open U.S. Senate seat in Maryland, Steele was endorsed by National Right to Life.

After the controversy about the article broke, a spokesman for Steele released a statement quoting Steele as saying he “always will be pro-life” and that it “is important that we stand up for the defenseless.” The statement also said he backs a Human Life Amendment to the U.S. Constitution banning abortion.

Social conservatives no doubt will agree with Steele’s latest statement, but they likely are left wondering what he meant during his comments to GQ. The controversial interview, posted on GQ’s website, began when the magazine asked Steele how much of his pro-life stance is “informed not just by” his Catholic faith but by the fact that he was adopted.

“Oh, a lot. Absolutely. I see the power of life in that — I mean, and the power of choice!” he said. “… I think as a country we get off on these misguided conversations that throw around terms that really misrepresent truth.”

He added, “The choice issue cuts two ways. You can choose life, or you can choose abortion. You know, my mother chose life. So, you know, I think the power of the argument of choice boils down to stating a case for one or the other.”

The interview then had the following exchange:

GQ: “Are you saying you think women have the right to choose abortion?”

STEELE: “Yeah. I mean, again, I think that’s an individual choice.”

GQ: “You do?”

STEELE: “Yeah. Absolutely.”

GQ: “Are you saying you don’t want to overturn Roe v. Wade?”

STEELE: “I think Roe v. Wade — as a legal matter, Roe v. Wade was a wrongly decided matter.”

GQ: “Okay, but if you overturn Roe v. Wade, how do women have the choice you just said they should have?”

STEELE: “The states should make that choice. That’s what the choice is. The individual choice rests in the states. Let them decide.”

In another comment that may irk conservatives, Steele repeated his view that he believes “gay marriage” is a state issue and that he opposes a federal marriage amendment — which he said would be “mucking around with the constitution.”

He also was asked if he believed homosexuality is a choice.

“Oh, no,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever really subscribed to that view, that you can turn it on and off like a water tap. Um, you know, I think that there’s a whole lot that goes into the makeup of an individual that, uh, you just can’t simply say, oh, like, ‘Tomorrow morning I’m gonna stop being gay.’ It’s like saying, ‘Tomorrow morning I’m gonna stop being black.'”

He previously told Fox News that he supports state marriage amendments and he told a radio interviewer that he opposes same-sex civil unions — comments that were applauded by conservatives.

Steele’s newest statement concerning the abortion issue said: “I am pro-life, always have been, always will be. I tried to present why I am pro life while recognizing that my mother had a ‘choice’ before deciding to put me up for adoption. I thank her every day for supporting life. The strength of the pro life movement lies in choosing life and sharing the wisdom of that choice with those who face difficult circumstances. They did that for my mother and I am here today because they did. In my view Roe vs. Wade was wrongly decided and should be repealed. I realize that there are good people in our party who disagree with me on this issue.

“But the Republican Party,” the statement continued, “is and will continue to be the party of life. I support our platform and its call for a Human Life Amendment. It is important that we stand up for the defenseless and that we continue to work to change the hearts and minds of our fellow countrymen so that we can welcome all children and protect them under the law.”

Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, a social conservative organization, expressed concern about Steele’s GQ interview, saying “his comments were cavalier and flippant toward fundamental policy issues on which Republicans have staked out clear positions and enumerated them in their platform.” He also noted Steele did not release a follow-up statement about marriage.

“Earlier this week in the midst of a number of meetings with Congressional leaders, I responded to an invitation to meet with Mr. Steele,” Perkins said. “In the meeting I expressed my concerns regarding previous dismissive comments he has made in various interviews about the efforts to protect marriage from radical redefinition. He said that now that he was chairman his personal views were subordinate to the Republican platform. Imagine my disappointment just 48 hours later when this story landed on my desk.

“This only serves to reinforce the belief by many social conservatives,” Perkins added, “that one major party is unfriendly while the other gives only lip service to core moral issues, which is why many have dropped their affiliation with the GOP. If such a visible Republican leader continues in this same vein I am sure the trend will continue. The prospects of more social conservatives leaving may excite the ‘big tenters,’ but that will only last until they find the Big Tent is empty.”

John McCormack, a writer for the conservative magazine Weekly Standard, wrote on the magazine’s blog that Steele’s two comments about abortion can in fact be reconciled.

“Steele was asked whether there is a right to abortion — not whether there ought to be a right to abortion,” McCormack wrote. “Under the current legal regime dictated by the Supreme Court, abortion is an ‘individual choice’ throughout all nine months of pregnancy for effectively any reason. In the GQ interview, was Steele simply stating the fact that abortion is an individual choice or expressing support for the laws that make it so? Steele wasn’t perfectly clear, but it’s clear from the entire GQ transcript that he’s making an argument in favor of choosing life over abortion.”

During the GQ interview Steele also said he believes the Republican Party is more welcoming to pro-choicers than the Democratic Party is to pro-lifers.

“Because the Democrats wouldn’t allow a pro-lifer to speak at their convention [in 1992],” he said. “We’ve had many a pro-choicer speak at ours — long before Rudy Giuliani. So yeah, that’s something I’ve been trying to get our party to appreciate. It’s not just in our words but in our actions, we’ve been a party that’s much more embracing.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor for Baptist Press.

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