Herman Cain's confusing remarks on abortion during an appearance last night on CNN are getting a lot of attention today in the media and conservative blogosphere. Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum blasted Cain for taking a "pro-choice position" that is "similar to those held by John Kerry, Barack Obama and many others on the liberal left."
If Republican voters come to see Cain as "pro-choice" on abortion, his campaign could easily implode. But if you look at Cain's remarks, it's hard to tell whether he took a pro-choice position on abortion generally or in the specific case of when a pregnancy is caused by rape.
Here's the transcript:
MORGAN: But you've had children, grandchildren. If one of your female children, grand children was raped, you would honestly want her to bring up that baby as her own?
CAIN: You're mixing two things here, Piers?
CAIN: You're mixing --
MORGAN: That's what it comes down to.
CAIN: No, it comes down to it's not the government's role or anybody else's role to make that decision. Secondly, if you look at the statistical incidents, you're not talking about that big a number. So what I'm saying is it ultimately gets down to a choice that that family or that mother has to make.
Not me as president, not some politician, not a bureaucrat. It gets down to that family. And whatever they decide, they decide. I shouldn't have to tell them what decision to make for such a sensitive issue.
MORGAN: By expressing the view that you expressed, you are effectively -- you might be president. You can't hide behind now the mask, if you don't mind me saying, of being the pizza guy. You might be the president of United States of America. So your views on these things become exponentially massively more important. They become a directive to the nation.
CAIN: No they don't. I can have an opinion on an issue without it being a directive on the nation. The government shouldn't be trying to tell people everything to do, especially when it comes to social decisions that they need to make.
So the conversation began with a question specifically about abortion in the case of rape, but it's unclear whether Cain is referring to abortion more broadly as an issue on which "the government shouldn't be trying to tell people" what to do.
During a recent appearance on John Stossel's Fox Business show, Cain's remarks on abortion were even more befuddling.
"I don't think government should make that decision," Cain said, in reference to abortion. Cain added that abortion in the case of rape is a woman's choice.
"So abortion should be legal?" Stossel asked.
"No, abortion should not be legal," Cain replied.
But on his appearance on Meet the Press last Sunday, Cain indicated that the only case in which abortion should be a "family's decision" is when the life of the mother is at stake:
MR. GREGORY: What about abortion? You want to overturn Roe v. Wade. Could you support or condone abortion under any exceptions at all?
MR. CAIN: I believe in life from conception, and I do not agree with abortion under any circumstances.
MR. GREGORY: Exceptions for rape and incest?
MR. CAIN: Not for rape and incest because...
MR. GREGORY: What about life of the mother?
MR. CAIN: Because if you look at, you look at rape and incest, the, the percentage of those instances is so miniscule that there are other options. If it's the life of the mother, that family's going to have to make that decision .
As I noted back in June, Cain's position on abortion in extreme cases changed between 1998 and when he ran for Senate in 2004:
Are there circumstances under which he thinks abortion should be legal? There’s a four-second pause. “Ahhh,” [Cain] sighs, going silent for 16 seconds. “You’re asking, are there circumstances in which it should be legal?” Yes. “Let me get back to you on that. I need to mull this over because that question can be a trap either way you go. I don’t want to be inconsistent with what I have said in the past.”
In 1998, Cain said in an interview, “I am pro-life with exceptions, and people want you to be all or nothing.” He added: “I am not a social issue crusader. I am a free-enterprise crusader.” It’s not clear what the exceptions were in 1998; in 2004, he supported only one: when the life of the mother is at stake.
The only response from Cain (or his campaign) was this tweet: "I'm 100% pro-life. End of story." But the story isn't going to die down until Cain gives more detailed answers.