At Baptist school, Giuliani explains abortion view

HOUSTON Fri May 11, 2007 4:47pm EDT

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani speaks during the GOP presidential candidates debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, in this May 3, 2007, file photo. Giuliani, under fire from conservatives for his support of abortion rights, defended his views on Friday but said there were other important issues in the 2008 White House race. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES)

Former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani speaks during the GOP presidential candidates debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California, in this May 3, 2007, file photo. Giuliani, under fire from conservatives for his support of abortion rights, defended his views on Friday but said there were other important issues in the 2008 White House race.

Credit: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES)

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HOUSTON (Reuters) - Republican presidential candidate Rudolph Giuliani, under fire from conservatives for his support of abortion rights, defended his views on Friday but said there were other important issues in the 2008 White House race.

The former mayor of New York City and the leader in national polls for the Republican nomination argued the fight against international terrorism and preserving the free-market economy are too crucial to let one issue divide Republicans.

"I disagree with myself sometimes, and I change my mind sometimes," Giuliani said to laughter as he addressed a largely anti-abortion audience at Houston Baptist University.

The lone candidate in the Republican field to support a woman's right to an abortion, Giuliani was criticized for appearing to vacillate on the issue in last week's debate in California. Asked whether the landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade should be overturned, Giuliani said it would be OK either way but that he would appoint judges and let them do their job.

On Friday, Giuliani restated his personal opposition to abortion but support of a woman's right to choose.

"It's a difficult issue," he said.

He sought to defuse the potent subject that could harm his chances of winning over primary voters who tend to be more conservative, saying Republicans risk losing the White House if they allow themselves to be divided.

"If we don't find a way of unifying around broad principles ... we're going to lose this election," Giuliani said.

And he called for more respect between people who have good-faith disagreements about issues.

"Those principles come from God, and that's why we're so lucky," he said.

A member of the audience, Carla Cox, who said she was firmly against abortion and skeptical of Giuliani, praised his appearance.

"He was a lot warmer than he comes across on television," said Cox, a marketing director for a home health care company. "His authenticity doesn't have a chance to come across in those sound bites."

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