President, Hopefuls Join Anti-Abortion Confab, as Movement Spat Takes Back Seat

The National Right to Life Committee is holding its annual convention in Kansas City this weekend, and it’s drawn some prominent Republicans: President Bush saluted the gathered activists, saying in a taped message, “You have been a fearless shepherd of the innocent and unborn. … Together we’ve compiled an unprecedented record in the defense of the unborn and our work continues.”

Several GOP presidential candidates made the journey to greet the activists in person. Mitt Romney told conference-goers that their activism made him an anti-abortion “convert”; while he received a standing ovation, a video recently released by the McCain campaign shows him reiterating his pro-choice position as governor in 2005, emphasizing that he still has a long way to go to convince activists such as these of his sincerity. Sam Brownback was “cheered wildly,” according to Reuters, as he told the crowd, “We are winning the fight for life. We are going to win the fight for life.” Duncan Hunter and Ron Paul also spoke at the conference.

Fred Thompson, still yet to officially declare his candidacy for president, submitted a video message, featuring pictures of his wife and children. An archive video of Thompson as a candidate has also recently surfaced, showing him apparently supporting abortion rights. But unlike Romney, Thompson’s message today was not that of a convert:

In 1994, I made my first run for the U.S. Senate. I was proud to receive the National Right to Life endorsement. I’ve been with you ever since. You’ve been with me ever since. On abortion related votes I’ve been 100 percent.

These high-profile guests come at a crucial time for National Right to Life. The group has been at the center of an internecine conflict in the anti-abortion movement over long-term strategy. Its former Colorado state affiliate, Colorado Right to Life, joined a few other small groups to denounce religious-right heavyweight James Dobson, demanding that he “repent” for supporting the “Partial-Birth Abortion Ban.” National Right to Life defended Dobson, and Colorado Right to Life President Brian Rohrbough fired back, accusing its parent group of becoming “a wing of the Republican Party.” Since the ban only prevents one procedure, abortions will continue, according to the dissidents:

“The broader movement is claiming that we’re saving lives, and we’re not,” said Brian Rohrbough, one of the dissident activists. “It can’t get any worse than that.” …

“We’ve been promised for almost 40 years that the strategy of electing Republicans would get us a Republican Supreme Court that would end abortion, and that has not happened,” Rohrbough said. “If we raise money to do the same thing over and over again we will never, ever establish personhood for all [unborn] children.”

The partial-birth ruling “gives us the most powerful example we’ve ever had of how morally bankrupt this strategy is,” added the Rev. Bob Enyart, pastor of Denver Bible Church.

Meanwhile, incrementalists – including Dobson and most other national groups – see the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the ban as a major victory, and they plan to continue chipping away at Roe v. Wade by pushing more and more restrictions. Activist Jill Stanek accused her erstwhile “purist” allies of “fanatical thinking.” Meanwhile, Colorado Right to Life and the others took out another ad, this time in Human Events, again calling the ruling “More Wicked than Roe.”

So it wasn’t surprising that the day before National Right to Life’s big convention, it cut its state affiliate loose, naming “Colorado Citizens for Life/Protecting Life Now” in its stead.