Inside the Republican pro-choice coalition 


This piece originally appeared on Salon.com during the platform hearings for the 2000 Republican National Convention.

Inside the Republican pro-choice coalition

Meet the women who are vowing a floor fight in Philadelphia over abortion.

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By Adele M. Stan

July 29, 2000 |

PHILADELPHIA, PA--As the delegates to the Republican Platform Committee strode into the Pennsylvania Convention Center yesterday for the party's quadrennial assessment of its mission, they found themselves greeted at the door by the welcoming committee of the Republican Pro-Choice Coalition (RPCC). Politely applauding the approach of each delegate, the ladies cried out, "Yay, delegates! Help us out!" With one of the group's signature yellow T-shirts pulled over her smart black outfit, Carole Harper, president of the Morris County (N.J.) Republican Women's Club, held open the door for Chuck Cunningham, former field director of the Christian Coalition and current director of federal affairs for the National Rifle Association, all the while beaming a gracious smile.

Within moments, Dina Merrill, the actress and heiress who sits on the RPCC board, emerged from the building, evicted on account of the yellow T-shirt she flaunted under her trim, unbuttoned purple blazer. No yellow T-shirts in the hall, she had been told. Merrill had entered the building with Susan Cullman, the group's co-chairwoman, and fellow board member Jennifer Blei Stockman, who had both declined to mar the understated palette of their tailored suits with the offending garment. They made it as far as the lobby before being turned around. When a police officer told them to move across the street, the pro-choicers politely moved on, with no choice words conferred upon the cop.

But the group is committed to their cause. Even though the anti-abortion language did not change in the new kinder, gentler GOP platform, members of the group remain committed to getting that language out of the platform next week, even if that means a fight on the floor of the convention.

But members of this group are clearly not your garden-variety political activists. They range in age from their 20s to 70. They wear pearls and Ferragamos; I even saw one with a pastel cashmere sweater tied across the shoulders of her crisp, black suit. There are a handful of men enlisted in this cause: some six or seven guys under the age of 30, and three notable grown-ups -- Dr. LeRoy Carhart, the Nebraska abortion provider who took his challenge to his state's so-called partial birth abortion ban to the Supreme Court; attorney Glenn Murray, who represented abortion provider Dr. Bernard Slepian until the doctor was felled by an assassin's bullet; and Randy Moody, a platform delegate and national co-chair of Planned Parenthood Republicans for Choice. Among the 30 or so volunteers who have come to do battle on the platform, only two -- a beefy fellow with gelled, stand-up hair, and a slim ingenue in a short, slit skirt -- have made discernable fashion statements.

Many of the women smoke, though generally not in public settings (unlike the on-duty cop I saw this morning on a corner-minding beat), and I've yet to hear any of them claim to be vegetarians. The only things pierced in this crowd are ears, one hole in each lobe, thank you very much.

But don't mistake their tame demeanor for lack of passion. After years of being shunted to the margins of their own party, they've learned a thing or two about organization and have marshaled their resources for the single-minded purpose of pulling the GOP's anti-abortion plank out of the party platform. Theirs are the faces of 21st-century American feminism: poised, genteel and determined. Of course, the ladies themselves may shy from the "f" word for fear of its connotation of stridency. These are Republicans, after all -- old-style Republicans, the kind we used to have before the women-haters and gay-bashers seized control of the party of Lincoln, the kind of Republicans who loathe government intrusion in people's personal lives as passionately as they do its interference in the marketplace.

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