Last night the Massachusetts Republican Party decided to postpone until after the November election a vote on whether to adopt the national Republican platform, which on the subject of abortion says, “We endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children,” and does not provide any exception for rape or to save the life of the pregnant mother.
The motion to postpone was offered by Patricia Doherty, an activist on anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage issues. Doherty was the same state committee member who had originally proposed that the state GOP adopt the national platform, and so it would appear that some forceful persuasion from party leadership (with its eye on the higher political aspirations of certain party members) had been brought to bear to quash the idea.
As David Bernstein observed, an internecine war is going on in the Massachusetts GOP between the elite, moneyed moderates who have traditionally been its public face and the more conservative Tea Party activists who gained ground in the 2010 election. The moderates would like to create the impression that the party is, if not expressly pro-choice, at least tolerant of that position. For example, Brad Jones, the House Minority leader, tried to defuse the abortion issue by dismissing the national platform as irrelevant, useful only as a door jam: “Being a Republican in Massachusetts, I kind of view the platform much like the Democratic Legislature views Republican budgets. It’s a nice big thick document that we’re going to use as a door jam and we’re going to move on and do what we think we should do,” he said in Tampa.
While it’s true that unlike the national platform, the state platform does not explicitly mention abortion (it says only that “we affirm the inherent dignity and sanctity of human life”), elsewhere, Massachusetts Republicans have been far more outspoken on the issue, including in the state Legislature where they’ve filed bills staking out a much more conservative position.
The most controversial of these (in light of the ultrasound bill enacted in Virginia earlier this year) is House 482, which would in nearly all cases prohibit a pregnant woman from having an abortion until she has been given information about gestational development, including “realistic drawings of the developing unborn child at two week increments, and including written information about brain and heart function and the presence of external members and internal organs” and until she had been offered an “opportunity for an ultrasound so that she can view her fetus and see its heart beat.” Of the state’s 37 Republican legislators, a majority — 22 — have co-sponsored this bill, including 14 Republicans who were first elected in 2010. (A smaller but still substantial number of Democrats are also co-sponsors. The sponsors’ names are at the “Miscellaneous” tab on the bill links).
And other Republican-sponsored bills track provisions of the national platform, including House 1333, which imposes criminal penalties on a physician who performs partial birth abortion; House 1683, which requires the state to segregate income tax revenue so that taxpayers who object to abortion will not have their taxes used to pay for it; and House 484, which prohibits abortion solely on the ground of the gender of the unborn child. Two of those bills were sponsored by first-term Republicans.
The better performer in this contest may get to decide whether the question about adopting the national platform ever comes up again.