- The Washington Times - Friday, April 17, 2009

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael S. Steele, the most controversial Republican national chairman in recent memory, and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, the biggest star in the party’s political firmament, shared the spotlight on Thursday at a pro-life dinner attended by about 3,000 persons in Evansville, Ind.

The speech at the Right to Life dinner was a key test of his pro-life credentials for those in the party who doubt Mr. Steele’s big tent explanations for why he helped found a prominent pro-choice GOP organization and joined another.

As expected, Bishop Gerald Andrew Gettelfinger of Evansville boycotted the dinner, which he normally attends. He had decided Mr. Steele’s position on abortion was at best ambiguous — a conclusion he reached after Mr. Steele failed to persuade him that he was truly pro-life during a talk between the two men last month.

But Mr. Steele, the keynote speaker for the Evansville Right to Life annual event, repeated his often-stated opposition to abortion, called for Roe vs. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that made abortion a constitutional right, “a travesty of legal reasoning” and condemned President Obama and the Democratic-dominated Congress for being on the other side of the issue.

“I am proud to join you in saying that I am pro-life, always have been, and always will be,” he told the audience seated at tables in a vast hall called the “Centre” that reminded some attendees from Washington of the Convention Center. An overflow crowd in an adjacent hall listened to his speech.

A former Maryland party chairman and the state’s lieutenant governor, Mr. Steele told the audience that there “can no longer be any doubt that we have never had a Congress and a president so hostile to the rights of the unborn.

“One of the president’s very first acts after being sworn in was to issue an executive order directing that our tax dollars be used to pay for abortions around the world — a direct affront to the many thousands who had marched for life literally the day before,” Mr. Steele said, according to prepared remarks.

Republican donors and activists, sensitive to how cohesive their party is likely to be under Mr. Steele’s leadership, will be watching over the coming days to see what judgment emerges about Mr. Steele from those attending the dinner — and how word of that judgment spreads through the pro-life community across America.