ST. LOUIS -- Former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman helped launch a new Republicans for Choice Committee in St. Louis Thursday and called on moderate Republicans to become more vocal within their party.
Whitman was lending her support to the new chapter, part of a national Planned Parenthood effort by Republicans looking to increase abortion rights visibility within the party. Republicans for Choice supports funding for family planning programs and age-appropriate sex education, along with abortion rights.
Whitman said she fears the far right has too much power in the Republican Party. She called on her party to return to its core principles, like "the restriction of government intrusion into our everyday lives."
Republicans for Choice began in the late 1980s, but increased its efforts in the last five years or so, said Darlee Crockett, co-chair of the Republicans for Choice National Committee.
"We have 15 to 20 chapters formed or in formation," with a database that allows them to reach about 300,000 Republicans who support abortion rights, Crockett said.
Paula Gianino, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, said she hears from people who fear Roe v. Wade could be overturned, who are concerned about the elimination of state-funded family planning in Missouri and who are opposed to protections for pharmacists if they refuse to dispense emergency contraception.
"I think people are starting to say, 'enough,"' Crockett said. "I think there's a growing concern that the Republican Party has been taken over by a small, but very vocal, minority."
John Hancock, a spokesman for the Missouri Republican Party, said he wasn't concerned that groups like Republicans for Choice could weaken the party.
"We are the majority party in America, and our two-party system necessitates a divergence of viewpoints within each political party," Hancock said. "We welcome the support of pro-choice Republicans and value the support of our pro-life Republicans as well."
During a special session in September, Missouri Republicans overwhelmingly supported legislation placing new restrictions on abortion. No Republican senators and just three Republicans in the House voted against the bill. Five House Republicans did not vote.
Planned Parenthood is suing to block the law. The measure allows lawsuits against people who help teens get abortions without parental consent; requires doctors performing abortion to have clinical privileges at a hospital within 30 miles that provides obstetric and gynecological care; and disqualifies anyone with a financial interest in an abortion from helping minors seek court exemptions to the parental consent law.
Whitman was governor from 1994 to 2001, and was administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Bush from January 2001 through June 2003.
Sometimes mentioned as a potential candidate for president, Whitman said she has no interest in seeking the office in 2008.