In the presidential debates last night held in Boston, MA, Republican nominee George W. Bush attempted to skirt his anti-choice position, while Democratic nominee Vice President Al Gore pledged that he “support[s] a woman’s right to choose.” Bush tried to muddle his position on abortion and on the FDA’s recent approval of mifepristone, a method of early, medical abortion, contradicting his earlier statement that he would pursue legislation to take mifepristone off the market. Moderator Jim Lehrer asked if Bush would overturn the FDA’s decision; the governor responded, “I don’t think the President can do that.” Despite the fact that anti-abortion groups have repeatedly stated that the battle over mifepristone is not over, Bush definitively stated, “I think once the decision’s made, it’s been madeunless it’s proven unsafe to women.” The Food and Drug Administration, along with medical and scientific organizations like the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have found that mifepristone is safe and effective.
Vice President Gore made it clear that he would appoint pro-choice Supreme Court Justices, and stressed that Bush’s use of the term “strict constructionist” was a “code word” indicating that he would appoint Justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade. Bush stated that he is “pro-life,” and said that the President should “promote a culture of life in America–the life of the elderly, the life of the unborn.” He claimed that abortion would not be a “litmus test” for his judicial nominations, but did say that Supreme Court Justices should “strictly interpret the consitution” and view it as a “sacred” document. Gore firmly responded that Bush was using “code words,” and pointed out that Bush’s “model Justices” are Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas–two of the most conservative, anti-choice Justices on the bench. While Bush criticized Gore for promoting “big government,” Gore stressed that Bush’s anti-choice stance would allow government to make decisions for women. “I trust women to make decisions that affect their lives, their destinies, and their bodies,” Gore said.
While Gore’s answers on abortion will likely please women voters, a key block in this election, the debate format might have turned many women off. “The formal debate commission thought it was enough to allow one white male over the age of 50 to ask all the questions,” said Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “The lack of a panel that looked more like America was detrimental to the debate, and the exclusion of women is a step backwards.”
The debate gave Gore a boost in the polls, with most showing the Vice President ahead between 6 and 12 points. The gender gap continues to give Gore an edge, with a strong majority of women supporting the Vice President.