Former New York mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani took a step back last week in his previously promising effort to woo social conservatives. In seemingly casual and ill-considered remarks to CNN’s Dana Bash, Giuliani rattled the nerves of pro-lifers.
“Do you support taxpayer money or public funding for abortions in some cases?” Bash asked.
Giuliani replied: “If it would deprive someone of a constitutional right, yes, if that’s the status of the law, then I would, yes.”
Giuliani later stated that, as president, he would leave intact the 1976 Hyde Amendment, which prohibits federal abortion funding, except in cases of rape, incest, and pregnancies that jeopardize the lives of mothers.
“As I have indicated before,” Giuliani said, “I will not seek to change current law as described in the Hyde Amendment…”
Still, the damage was done. Conservative commentators, including some Giuliani fans, expressed their bafflement that Giuliani spoke so carelessly about the core concern of a key GOP constituency he has courted, and much of whose support he will need to win the GOP nomination. An NRO editorial even predicted that “an America with Giuliani’s favored policies would be a country with more abortion — probably reversing the 15-year trend of decline…”
This conclusion is dubious, and Giuliani should not duck it. His stump speeches, from the handful I have attended to others I have read or watched on TV, largely avoid abortion. Instead, Giuliani stresses his mayoral record on crime reduction, tax cuts, welfare reform, and more. This is a lost opportunity for Giuliani, because what he can say about abortion on his watch should please pro-lifers.
Between 1993 and 2001, while he was at City Hall, abortions across America fell from 1,495,000 to 1,303,000. This 12.8 percent decline, as reported by the pro-choice Guttmacher Institute, was sizeable. However, the downward trend in abortions under Giuliani was even more encouraging: Legal abortions in Gotham fell 16.9 percent, from 103,997 in 1993 to 86,466 in 2001, according to the New York State Office of Vital Statistics. (Abortions climbed 10.3 percent during the eight years before Giuliani.) As for taxpayer-funded Medicaid abortions, they plummeted an even faster 22.9 percent — from 45,006 in 1993 to 34,722 in 2001.
My NRO colleagues complained Monday that “New York City’s abortion rate had a long way to fall: Even after its decline, it remained much higher than the national average.” Yes, it’s true. Mayor Giuliani did not erase abortion in New York City. But it fell plenty on his watch. Does he deserve no credit for that?
Giuliani’s critics should pause and remember that these abortion reductions during his tenure did not happen in a conservative bastion like Lynchburg, Virginia, or Tulsa, Oklahoma. These dramatic declines occurred in New York City, arguably America’s abortion headquarters. The New York state of mind on abortion may have been captured most accurately on a bumper sticker I once saw here: “If you don’t like abortion, don’t have one.”
Had Giuliani turned the then-vacant Tweed Courthouse behind City Hall into a 24/7 free-abortion center, he would have been given a ticker-tape parade. Sex and the City-style feminists would have lined up to give him high-fives. The New York Times would have dropped the rolling pins it used to smack his noggin and picked up pom-poms to cheer him on.
“Rudy, Rudy — Sis boom bah; Free abortions –Rah rah rah!”
That never happened.
As New York State Conservative Party Chairman Mike Long told me: “I never remember seeing him promote the issue, to my knowledge.”
Added Joseph Zwilling, communications director for the Archdiocese of New York: “Off the top of my head, I cannot recall any instances when Mayor Giuliani’s and John Cardinal O’Connor’s different positions on abortion came to the fore while O’Connor was New York’s archbishop.”
Giuliani’s mayoral policy of giving occasional pro-choice speeches while doing nothing to promote abortion up-ends the tendency of Washington Republicans to give pro-life speeches while doing nothing to hinder abortion. (The partial-birth abortion ban, which Giuliani supports, is a rare exception.) Giuliani’s approach paralleled a drop in abortions that outpaced the national downward trend.
Unlike Giuliani’s successor, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Rudy could have required abortion lessons for OB-GYN residents in city-owned hospitals. Bloomberg’s pro-abortion policy accompanied a 5.2 percent increase in abortions, from 34,722 in 2001 to 36,523 in 2003. Giuliani easily could have implemented such a policy, or others like it, but he did not.