The national Democratic chairman Thursday rejected Rep. John J. LaFalce's request that the party abandon its platform plank supporting a woman's right to choose an abortion.
In a letter hand-delivered to the Town of Tonawanda Democrat and to 49 House Democrats who support LaFalce, Ronald H. Brown said the Democratic Party requires no "litmus tests" of its members, referring to the Reagan administration's requirement that federal judicial nominees be opposed to abortion on demand.
"We should also remember that we differ from the Republican Party in our concerns for children -- their nutrition, education and housing," Brown wrote. "The concerns of our party go beyond the deeply troubling issues of choice. I appreciate and respect your concerns on this serious issue." Brown's response was expected, LaFalce said, adding that Brown "said what he had to say."
The congressman said Rep. Mary Rose Oakar, D-Ohio, told him that Brown wants to meet with him and the 49 others who last month signed the letter asking that the party abandon the abortion plank.
"All I wanted to do was sensitize him so he'll treat the issue very gingerly," LaFalce said. "We don't think it should be a party platform."
The congressman said he thought that he had succeeded in sensitizing the party chairman and is willing to meet with him.
Brown's response may trigger an intraparty struggle, which could last until the national convention in 1992, about the Democratic position supporting not only abortion but also taxpayer money for abortions.
The 1988 platform "does indeed make it clear that bid to discard abortion plank
. . . the party supports the continued protection of reproductive choice, regardless of ability to pay," Brown said.
He noted that the plank was adopted after hearings, platform committee meetings "and consideration by our nominees and by the full convention of the entire party."
"I cannot revise nor alter the platform," Brown said. "Perhaps more important, the Democratic Party is large enough to tolerate serious disagreements within our ranks. We have no litmus tests."
Ginny Terzano, an aide to Brown, said he was telling LaFalce and the other complaining Democrats that they "should abide by the plank and work within it" until the next convention, in 1992.
"Both parties have a platform for a reason," she said, "and it's to set the policy agenda."
LaFalce and 49 other House Democrats organized by LaFalce wrote to Brown on April 6 that the platform's abortion plank is "poor politics."
The House Democrats said the Democratic Party is "seen more and more as the party of abortion -- a sure recipe for losing irretrievably a significant segment of our traditional base of support."
"A good case can be made," the LaFalce letter said, "that the last three presidential elections have turned, at least in large part, on the loss of traditional Democrats who have broken with the party over so-called social issues, particularly abortion."
The letter was released by LaFalce only days before the massive pro-choice rally April 9 on the Mall in Washington, angering many of his pro-choice constituents and encouraging anti-abortionists in his 32nd Congressional District.
News Staff Reporter Barbara O'Brien contributed to this article.