WASHINGTON - Barbara Bush, in stunning contrast with the position her husband has maintained for the last 12 years, contends that abortion is "a personal choice" and that Republicans should drop the rigid anti-abortion plank from the party platform.
In an interview released yesterday with three news magazines, Mrs. Bush described abortion and homosexuality as "a personal choice . . . (a) personal thing." She said, "The personal things should be left out of, in my opinion, out of platforms and conventions."
And in another interview yesterday with the Los Angeles Times and other newspapers, Mrs. Bush also leveled a blast at Republican National Committee chairman Rich Bond for his recent attacks on Hillary Clinton, wife of Democratic nominee Bill Clinton.
"I don't like it," Mrs. Bush said of Bond's allegation that Hillary Clinton is "anti-family."
"I'm not going to lie to you about that," the first lady said. "I don't like attacking. . . . She's not running for office."
Mrs. Bush has seldom spoken out on policy matters and is almost never at variance with her husband. It was not known whether she had cleared her remarks with him.
But Nancy Sternoff of the National Republican Coalition for Choice saw it as a message from the Bush campaign: "I have no doubt that the campaign has given Mrs. Bush permission to respond to a platform that is punitive and denigrating to women. It is clear that this is a plea to pro-choice women not to defect in November."
Political analysts have suggested that the GOP's intolerant anti-abortion stance could cost Bush votes - particularly from women and GOP moderates.
Some political strategists have also suggested that harsh personal attacks on the Democrats, while effective in appealing to some voters, could offend others at a time of intense public dissatisfaction with the state of the nation.
President Bush is opposed to abortion with three exceptions: incest, rape and saving the life of the mother. He also says homosexuality is not normal. But the first lady's comments, combined with the president's remarks earlier in the week about abortion and homosexuality, appear to have at least the potential for defusing the explosive moral issues. The president said he would support his granddaughter if she were to choose abortion, and that he would still love a family member if he or she were homosexual.
The fact that the president himself seems less than rigid on abortion, and that he and his wife seem not in accord, may serve to make Bush himself seem more human to voters who are weighing their choice for president against their own inner conflicts.
Mrs. Bush criticized zealots on both sides of the abortion debate, saying that neither was entitled to claim a monopoly on morality. "Any moral superiority bothers me on either side, and I've certainly seen it on both . . . ," she said. "Both sides yell at me. . . . I don't think that's healthy for the country when anyone thinks their morals are better than anyone else's.
"The major issues ought to be peace, security, economy, health care, (the president's) crime package, schools."
Pro-choice advocates applauded her remarks. Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion Rights Action League, said, "Most Americans believe that abortion is a personal choice. Unfortunately, the radical anti-choice plank in the Republican Party platform is entirely consistent with President Bush's extreme anti-choice actions as president."
The president was pro-choice in 1980, switching only after Ronald Reagan, who is anti-abortion, tapped him as running mate.
A draft of the GOP platform approved yesterday calls for a constitutional amendment to ban abortion.
Mrs. Bush told the magazine writers she was neither pro nor con on abortion, noting the president had supporters on both sides.
"We should be working on the commonness underneath this umbrella," she said. "And, fine, you're pro-choice. I understand that. Great, you're pro-life. I understand that, too. And I know that you can argue yourself blue in the face, and you're not going to change each other's minds, and it's a waste of your time and my time to try to change minds. People feel very strongly both ways."
She was then asked whether abortion and homosexuality were issues of personal preference. "Indeed they are," she said.
Mrs. Bush's position is identical to that taken by "Unity Platform '92," a group of moderate Republicans who tried, without success, to persuade the GOP platform committee to drop all mention of abortion from the platform.
-- Material from Reuters and The Associated Press is included in this article.