A week after GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney gave the commencement address at Pat Robertson’s Regent University in hopes that evangelical voters will overlook the fact he is a Mormon, another Republican candidate traveled to the Bible Belt to repair his image on another key issue for many religious conservatives–abortion on demand.

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani spoke Friday at Houston Baptist University. A Giuliani spokesman told the Houston Chronicle the appearance was at least in part aimed at clarifying misconceptions about the candidate’s stand on abortion, which has been criticized in the press as confusing and sometimes contradictory.

Giuliani’s 2008 campaign Web site gave the HBU speech high profile. Major media including the Washington Post and New York Times treated it as a major political story.

No one seemed to mind when Giuliani misidentified the school as Houston Baptist “college,” instead of “university.”

“You’re the Huskies, right?” he asked. Moments later Giuliani paused to leave the stage to coddle and kiss a fussy baby in the crowd, who was interrupting his speech, after noticing the toddler was wearing an “I Love New York” T-shirt. “I am a politician,” he explained to an amused audience.

Giuliani told a predominantly youthful audience there is “substantial agreement” among Americans about things that are most important to the country–like defending the United States against terrorism, maintaining a growing economy and improving schools.

“I would improve schools through school choice,” he said. “I would improve our schools by giving parents the opportunity to decide where their children should go to school–public, private, parochial. It’s your money. It’s your child. It should be your choice.”

Giuliani acknowledged “there are areas of disagreement” among voters. He challenged students to consider whether those disagreements are important enough to make or break whether they can support his candidacy.

“There is no candidate for president of the United States with which you completely agree,” Giuliani said. “If there is, then that candidate is probably yourself.”

For example, he said: “Almost all Republicans, including me–and I think most people, not all, but most people–agree that marriage should remain between a man and a woman. It’s a sacred bond. It’s something that has been an under-support for our society for a very long time, and it should remain that way.”

“I do believe, however–because I have a strong view about respect for the rights of others–I do believe there should be a way to protect the rights of people who are gay and lesbian,” he continued.

“I think that reflects itself in having something like a domestic partnership. I think a domestic partnership should protect rights. I do not think domestic partnerships should be a substitute for marriage by just changing the name.”

Giuliani voiced similar views on another wedge issue used successfully in past elections by the Religious Right–abortion.

“This is a matter of deep and profound judgment,” Giuliani said. “It’s a matter of morals. It’s a matter of your interpretation of how laws should operate; your interpretation of how respect for the rights of others should operate. A lot of things are combined in what you think and what you feel about abortion.”

Giuliani said his views have evolved on some abortion-related issues. For example, he said he now supports the ban on “partial birth” abortion recently upheld by the Supreme Court and the Hyde Amendment, which restricts federal funding of abortion.

But he identified “two pillars, two core beliefs” that he said he does not expect to evolve or change.

“One is I believe abortion is wrong,” Giuliani said. “I think it is morally wrong, and if I were asked my advice by someone who was considering an abortion, I would tell them not to have the abortion–to have the child, and if nothing else, the adoption option exists. And it’s one that I would help you with, personally, if you were a relative, a friend.”

His second core belief concerning abortion, he said, is this:

“In a country like ours, where people of good faith–people who are equally decent, equally moral and even equally religious, where they come to different conclusions about this, about something so very, very personal–I believe you have to respect their viewpoint, and give them a level of choice here. Because I think ultimately, even if you disagree, you have to respect the right that their conscience is as strong as yours is about this, and they’re the ones that are most affected by it. So therefore I would grant women the right to make that choice.”

Giuliani said he is open to seeking ways to limit and reduce the numbers of abortions, “but I would not be open to removing the right” for a woman to choose.

Giuliani was introduced by HBU President Robert Sloan, former president of Baylor University.

While at Baylor, Sloan expressed interest in locating the George W. Bush Presidential Library at the campus of the Baptist school in Waco, Texas. While there still has been no official announcement, Bush has said he is leaning toward Southern Methodist University in Dallas as the future home for his library.

Sloan told the Houston Chronicle Giuliani’s aides contacted his office Wednesday to ask if the candidate could speak at the school, which has about 2,200 students. Sloan said he didn’t know specifically why Giuliani chose HBU.

“I think he wants to forthrightly speak on social issues in an audience where religious matters and moral issues truly matter,” Sloan said. “So I think instead of dodging it, he wants to openly address it.”

Phyllis Schlafly, president of the conservative Eagle Forum, told the Houston newspaper she doubts Giuliani’s views will play well among GOP voters.

“The Republican Party can’t afford to kick away its pro-life constituency,” she said.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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