TAMPA, Florida — When delegates to the Republican National Convention gathered in a hotel room yesterday to finalize the party's unbending opposition to abortion, the youngest member of the platform committee was the one who raised the loudest objections.
Jackie Curtiss, 22, is hardly a squishy Northeastern moderate. She's a political science and business major at the University of Montevallo, outside Birmingham, Alabama, and staunchly anti-abortion. She arrived at the convention as a delegate for conservative champion Rick Santorum. But she's also on the leading edge of what she sees as a generational divide inside her party, with even younger social conservatives reckoning with a different society than their parents'.
“I’m a little disappointed that the Republican Party didn’t take into account that with college educated women, they support Barack Obama 63-32 percent,” Curtiss told reporters after the platform committee adjourned. “Some of these issues are the reason for that.”
Curtiss made waves in the committee when she objected to an amendment to the platform banning medication "that terminates human life after conception." The amendment was aimed at RU-486 and other so-called “abortion pills," but Curtiss warned that it could potentially include the “morning after pill.” With a national controversy swirling around Rep. Todd Akin's skepticism that rape could cause pregnancy, Curtiss — the only person to even refer to the embattled congressman — said the platform needed to make it clear that the party is welcoming to women.
“I think it’s a huge issue. I think you can tell that by all the Republican candidates coming out in opposition to him,” she said. “We don’t need to get hung up on him, but we also don’t need to support policies that mirror his.”
Nevertheless, the amendment passed and found its way into the party’s 2012 manifesto.
The same was true for abstinence-only education. Curtiss was joined by a handful of delegates in opposing the language which was being inserted into the platform. She also said she backs an exception to the abortion ban for rape victims, but did not offer an amendment on that pont.
“I’m from Alabama — we have abstinence-only education, we also have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country,” Curtiss said. “While I support abstinence and I think it’s something to teach our kids, I also am realistic and understand a majority of our kids are not waiting until marriage to have sex.”
Curtiss is the youngest delegate to the platform committee by nearly a decade. She said she feels some responsibility to advocate for the concerns of young Republicans who care more about jobs and the economy than social issues. (She's a committed party activist: She is the National Committeewoman for the Young Republican Federation of Alabama and a member of the Finance Committee for the Young Republican National Federation.)
“While they are socially conservative and want to have that in the platform, they don’t want that to be the main focus,” Curtiss said of young Republicans. “They want jobs, the economy to be the main focus. And I feel like we kind of got away from that in the last committee.”
Curtiss said she’s hopeful that the GOP will come around next cycle.
“I think it’s a generational thing,” she said. “I’m 22, I was the youngest person on the platform committee by 10 years. It’ll come around, and I hope it does. I’m for limited government and hopefully we can move forward on some of these issues that I think my generation, we don’t want to get stuck in — how we teach sex education, we don’t want to get caught up in people’s bodies. We are pro-life, and we don’t want to compromise our principles, we do want to be more realistic as a party."
The senior Republicans who ran the committee, however, gave no ground, and said they thought the GOP had adequately addressed the younger Republicans' concerns.
“We had a lot of young people here as delegates. And they had input and they were part of the process," said Sen. John Hoeven, the platform committee co-chair. "And I think if you talked to them, they went away feeling that they had a big say and a big part in the document that was crafted.”