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Republican platform targets social issues

Republicans at their national convention in Tampa on Tuesday approved what they have dubbed the party’s “most conservative platform in modern history,” a manifesto that calls for constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage and abortion in all cases, and aligns with presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s plans to lower tax rates, reverse defense cuts, and take Medicare to the private insurance market.

The GOP platform has generated uncommon interest this year — more, even, than Thursday night’s acceptance speech by Romney, according to a Pew Research Center poll. The strict abortion plank made headlines last week, though it has changed little since 1984, because of the uproar in both parties over remarks by Representative Todd Akin of Missouri.

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Akin, running for Senate against incumbent Democrat Claire McCaskill, said earlier this month that abortion services should not be available even to women who are raped because victims of “legitimate rape” rarely become pregnant. “The female body has ways to try and shut that whole thing down,” Akin said.

Romney called Akin’s comments “deeply offensive,” and Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus said they were “biologically stupid.” But even as GOP leaders spurned Akin’s rationale, Tuesday’s platform vote made clear that his view of abortion is in line with party orthodoxy.

Romney says he opposes abortion in most cases but favors exceptions for rape, incest, and danger to a pregnant woman’s health.

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New to the the Republican abortion plank this year is language seeking a ban on drugs that terminate pregnancies, such as RU-486. During platform committee deliberations, according to media reports, delegate Jackie Curtiss of Alabama asked whether the so-called “Plan B” or “morning after” pill would be part of the ban.

Connecticut delegate Themis Klarides assured her it would not be banned because it is designed to prevent conception, not to end an existing pregnancy. The committee approved the drug ban with that understanding.

New to the Republican abortion plank this year is language seeking a ban on drugs that terminate pregnancies.

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A more dramatic change to the GOP platform is its detailed proposal for Medicare reform. Four years ago, the platform addressed the cash-strapped program in general terms, stating that it is “isolated from the free market forces that encourage innovation, competition, affordability, and expansion of options.”

It did not offer a specific solution for Medicare’s potential insolvency, which program trustees predict could occur in 2024.

In this year’s platform, Republicans “call for a transition to a premium-support model for Medicare, with an income-adjusted contribution toward a health plan of the enrollee’s choice.”

The proposal mirrors that of Romney and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, who would introduce a Medicare voucher program in 2023. Beginning that year, new Medicare enrollees would choose between traditional, fee-for-service Medicare and premium support payments, which they would use to purchase private health insurance.

Competition among private insurers would keep costs down, the GOP ticket argues. In year one, the value of the vouchers would be set according to the second-least expensive private plan, ensuring adequate funds for seniors to cover their insurance premiums.

But because of an annual cap on the amount of money that could be added to the vouchers, seniors’ premium support payments would not be guaranteed to keep up with insurance costs in subsequent years, exposing some to greater out-of-pocket expenses.

And while a fee-for-service Medicare option would remain, seniors would have to pay extra to enroll if the cost of traditional Medicare exceeded the value of the vouchers.

The platform contains other apparent nods to Romney. Describing their attitude toward China in 2008, Republicans wrote that “our bilateral trade with China has created export opportunities for American farmers and workers.”

This year, the party followed the lead of Romney — who has vowed to label China a “currency manipulator” on his first day in office — in writing that “China’s failure to enforce international standards for the protection of intellectual property and copyrights, as well as its manipulation of its currency, call for a firm response from a new Republican administration.”

In remarks to convention delegates, Senator John Hoeven of North Dakota a platform committee co-chairman, credited Romney and Ryan with a plan “to get our economy growing and our people back to work.”

“They know that our best days are still ahead and believe in empowering the American people to create a brighter future for ourselves and our children,” Hoeven said.

On gay rights, Republicans this year reaffirmed support for a constitutional amendment “defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman” and for the Defense of Marriage Act, which invalidates same-sex marriages in the eyes of the federal government.

But the GOP did soften its stance on gays in the military. After declaring the “incompatibility of homosexuality with military service” in 2008, Republicans wrote in this year’s platform that “we will support an objective and open-minded review of the current administration’s management of military personnel policies.”

Callum Borchers can be reached at callum.borchers@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @callumborchers.
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