Jan 1 2008

Choosing to Call Giuliani ‘Pro-Choice’

Media mislabel GOP hopeful

News stories about Rudy Giuliani’s campaign for the Republican nomination for president often refer to his supposed support for abortion rights. To much of the mainstream media, this is evidence of Giuliani’s admirable consistency in the face of a largely anti-choice GOP base, and a sign that Republican voters are pragmatic enough to accept a pro-choice nominee.

A November 4 New York Times story, for example, declared that Giuliani “has made no serious effort to shade his positions to appeal to the social conservatives.” The same day, a Times analysis of political flip-flopping made the same point, oddly claiming that Giuliani’s “refusal to budge from his vocal support for abortion rights has strengthened his image as being steadfast, even as he has shifted in other areas.”

But it’s wrong to call Giuliani “pro-choice” or a “supporter of abortion rights.” Giuliani currently supports parental notification laws and a ban on so-called “partial birth” abortion (the dilation-and-extraction abortion method)–positions that put him sharply at odds with the pro-choice movement.

Moreover, as the Times itself reported (2/10/07): “He has talked about how he would appoint ‘strict constructionist’ judges to the Supreme Court–what abortion rights advocates say is code among conservatives for those who seek to overturn or limit Roe v. Wade, the 1973 court ruling declaring a constitutional right to abortion.” Giuliani has suggested (Union Leader, 11/5/07) he would nominate justices similar to Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Samuel Alito–all presumed to be anti-Roe votes.

And when New York Times political reporters claimed that Giuliani has never “shaded” his views on abortion, they ignored the ample evidence that he has–some of it reported in their own paper. (The February 10 article, for example, was headlined “Giuliani Shifts Abortion Speech Gently to Right.”)

In reality, Giuliani’s positions on abortion have been all over the map. When Giuliani first began running for New York City mayor in 1989, seeking support of both the Republicans and the minor Conservative Party, conservative leaders reported (New York Newsday, 2/22/89) that “he assured them he was personally opposed to abortion, did not favor government funding or criminal penalties, did favor an exemption in cases of rape or incest, and was in favor of overturning the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision legalizing abortion, Roe v. Wade.” “Giuliani…is opposed to abortion and even the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion,” the New York Times reported (4/6/89).

Later, he pledged, ”I would not take a leadership role, supporting or opposing abortion”; asked what his position was by the New York Times (7/4/89), “Giuliani said he was personally opposed to abortion, did not favor government financing for abortion and had believed that the Roe v. Wade decision should be overturned,” though he “would ‘preserve, protect and defend all constitutional and legal rights, including a woman’s right of choice,’ as long as the state law remained unchanged. But he did not say a woman should have a fundamental right to an abortion.”

A month later, with the general election approaching, Giuliani’s campaign issued a “clarification” (New York Times, 8/4/89):

As mayor, Rudy Giuliani will uphold a woman’s right of choice to have an abortion. Giuliani will fund all city programs which provide abortions to insure that no woman is deprived of her right due to an inability to pay. He will oppose reductions in state funding. He will oppose making abortion illegal. Although Giuliani is personally opposed to abortion, his personal views will not interfere with his responsibilities as mayor.

Giuliani lost the mayoral election in 1989, thanks in part to incumbent David Dinkins’ criticisms of his flip-flops on the abortion issue (UPI, 11/4/89). He ran again successfully in 1993 with much the same abortion line that he had at the end of the 1989 campaign (though by ’93, he was openly describing himself as “pro-choice”–New York Times, 9/30/93).

Given that history–and Giuliani’s current assurances to conservative voters regarding judicial appointments–campaign reporters have plenty to work with. CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer teased a November 26 report this way: “Is he flip-flopping to win over conservatives or is his position simply evolving over time?” In his report, correspondent John King answered, “We went back over Giuliani’s record the past 20 years and, clearly, there is a bit of an evolution.” King did a decent job recapping that “evolution,” leading Blitzer to ask: “But the bottom line, John, is he supports abortion rights for women, is that right?” King responded: “He does,” then went on to point out arguments to that effect made by Giuliani campaign officials–and failing to note Giuliani’s statements about judges.

The fact that journalists are aware of Giuliani’s record and still label him “pro-choice” is revealing. Responding to FAIR’s analysis, NPR ombudsman Alicia Shepard wrote (12/3/07) that NPR‘s political editor and Giuliani correspondent feel comfortable calling Giuliani “a strong supporter of abortion rights,” while at the same time being very aware of Giuliani’s history and current campaign rhetoric. These journalists seem to be trying hard to discern nuances that Giuliani appears happy to disregard–depending on the audience.

Giuliani’s actual historical record on the abortion issue would have been useful when reporters were writing about how Giuliani secured the endorsement of conservative evangelist Pat Robertson. (It’s worth recalling that after the September 11 attacks, which have been Giuliani’s signature issue, Robertson agreed with Jerry Falwell that “abortionists” were part of the reason that the attacks were “probably what we deserve”–700 Club, 9/13/01.)

Robertson declared when issuing his endorsement that Giuliani’s assurances about the judges he would appoint to the Supreme Court were what mattered most (L.A. Times, 11/8/07). This is, by any reasonable measure, the only thing that matters; that’s what’s would have a real impact on women’s lives, not Giuliani’s personal feelings about abortion rights. That’s a basic fact that GOP voters seem to understand better than mainstream media political reporters.