Anti-abortion group defends Brownback-Giuliani talks

The National Right to Life Committee, the nation’s leading anti-abortion rights advocacy group, has come to the defense of Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kan.) after he received strong criticism for meeting with Rudy Giuliani last week to discuss a possible endorsement.  

In a letter sent Friday, the group signaled that Brownback could back Giuliani in the primary and hold onto his position as a leading advocate for the protection of unborn life with the support of an important advocacy group.

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Brownback’s meeting with the former New York City mayor, who is atop the field of GOP presidential candidates in national polls, has stirred controversy among some conservatives because Giuliani has stated that women who want an abortion but cannot afford one should receive federal funding.   

But Giuliani has also promised to appoint strict-constructionist judges who would not overturn laws restricting abortion rights and has avowed his personal opposition to abortion.

On Thursday, Brownback underscored his potential support for Giuliani by declaring he was “much more comfortable” with the candidate’s views on abortion after meeting with him for more than an hour in the Hart Senate Office Building.

The assertion, which came while Brownback stood beside Giuliani for an impromptu press conference, drew a rebuke from Jim Bopp Jr., a prominent legal advocate for conservative groups opposing abortion, who supports Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

“There’s obviously something more going on here than fidelity to the pro-life cause,” Bopp told Talking Points Memo, a left-leaning blog. “Brownback is angling for some personal political benefit by cozying up to Giuliani.”

The leaders of the National Right toLife Committee, which retains Bopp as general counsel, rejected the criticism in the letter to Brownback.

“Mr. Bopp’s remarks quoted above, if accurately reported, do not represent National Right to Life, and we disagree with them,” they wrote. “All of us who know you personally recognize that your commitment to the pro-life cause is deep and heartfelt. We know this because we have worked shoulder to shoulder with you on such important pro-life issues as partial-birth abortion, fetal pain, ultrasound and human cloning.

“We reject emphatically anyone’s suggestion that you have sacrificed or would sacrifice the interests of the unborn in order to garner some ‘personal political benefit.’ ”

Bopp, who is a volunteer for Romney’s campaign, may have endangered the former governor’s chances of winning Brownback’s highly sought-after endorsement. All five top-tier GOP presidential candidates — Giuliani, Romney, Sen. John McCainJohn McCainOvernight Defense: Trump gets briefing at Pentagon on ISIS, Afghanistan | Senate panel approves five defense picks | Senators want Syria study in defense bill Schwarzenegger tweets to McCain: 'You'll be back' Trump called McCain to wish him well after cancer diagnosis MORE (Ariz.), former Sen. Fred Thompson (Tenn.) and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee — have contacted the Kansas senator.

“It shows that Romney’s campaign has to be on every side of every single issue, even something so simple as meeting with Sen. Brownback,” said a senior campaign aide to Brownback. “At the same time they’re asking for a meeting, they’re sending out their surrogates to attack Sen. Brownback on his pro-life record.”

Brownback’s endorsement would be especially valuable to Giuliani and Romney because both have had trouble corralling the support of social conservatives. Romney has had to face repeated questioning over his declaration of support for abortion rights when he ran for governor in 2002.

Bopp also implied that Brownback was being unfair by accommodating Giuliani but not Romney.

Bopp said Brownback’s smiling photo-op with Giuliani was “surprising in light of his unwillingness to accept Romney’s conversion [on the issue], which happened several years ago. Now he’s willing to accept Giuliani’s statements of the last day or so.”

Brownback’s campaign targeted Romney earlier this year by informing Iowa voters through automated telephone calls that as “late as 2005 Romney pledged to support and uphold pro-abortion policies and passed taxpayer funding of abortions in Massachusetts.”

The candidates later clashed over the content of the calls at a GOP debate. Romney called them “desperate.”

Brownback’s aide said that Brownback is “sincere and genuine” and meant “nothing more and nothing less” when he offered to sit down and discuss the issues with all of the GOP candidates.

David O’Steen, the executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, said in an interview that the purpose of the letter was to make clear that his group in no way endorsed Bopp’s comments.

“We wanted to clarify that we have utmost confidence in Mr. Brownback’s integrity,” said O’Steen. He added that he did not see a reason why Brownback meeting with Giuliani or even endorsing him as president would undermine his status as a leader on abortion issues.

“He’s a leader of the pro-life movement because he’s taken a leadership role in promoting pro-life policies and leadership positions,” said O’Steen.

If Brownback supports Giuliani, he “can still support pro-life legislation,” said O’Steen.

“In a primary election, a lot of people endorse a lot of [candidates] and have their reasons,” he said. “In any election you have pro-abortion people supporting pro-life people and pro-life people supporting pro-abortion candidates.”

At the same time, O’Steen said he could not envision his organization endorsing Giuliani. In past elections, the National Right to Life Committee endorsed President Bush, former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and 1996 GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole, he said.

Bopp said that he did not mind that his client, the National Right to Life Committee, disagreed with his political views.

“I don’t expect my numerous clients to agree or disagree with me on political issues,” he said. “I’m just expressing my own personal viewpoint. It’s not on behalf of any client or campaign.”

Bopp emphasized that he is a volunteer supporter of the Romney campaign and does not receive payment.