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Herman Cain’s confusing views on the government’s role in abortion

Chris Moody, Yahoo News
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Cain (Isaac Brekken/AP)

Does Herman Cain support a woman's right to an abortion? Or does he believe the government should protect life from the moment of conception? Or does he believe something in between, that both a woman's right to an abortion and the government's role in protecting embryonic and fetal life and health should be subject to certain limitations?

Based on Cain's confusing and contradictory statements on the subject, he has struggled to articulate the answer.

During an interview with CNN's Piers Morgan on Wednesday night, Cain said that he personally opposes abortion under all circumstances, even in cases of rape or incest. But when pressed on how that view would direct his policy decisions as president, Cain appeared to support the notion that abortion should remain legal in those cases.

"It's not the government's role, or anybody else's role, to make that decision," Cain said in response to a question from Morgan about whether the government should ban abortion when a woman becomes pregnant because of rape or incest. "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 try to tell them what decision to make for such a sensitive decision."

Cain's comments to Piers Morgan were in the context of a discussion about abortion under specific circumstances. But during an appearance on Fox Business Network's "Stossel" in July, Cain told host John Stossel that people "shouldn't just be free to abort" only moments after saying, "I don't think the government should make that decision."

Read the conversation:

Cain: I'm pro-life from conception, yes.

Stossel: Any cases where it should be legal?

Cain: I don't think government should make that decision.

Stossel: People should be free to abort a baby?

Cain: I support life from conception. No, people shouldn't just be free to abort because if we don't protect the sanctity of life from conception, we will also start to play God relative to life at the end of life.

Stossel: So I'm confused on what your position is.

Cain: My position is I'm pro-life. Period.

Stossel: If a woman is raped, she should not be allowed to end the pregnancy?

Cain: That's her choice. That is not government's choice. I support life from conception.

Stossel: So abortion should be legal?

Cain: No, abortion should not be legal. I believe in the sanctity of life.

Stossel: I'm not getting it. I'm not understanding it. If it's her choice, that means it's legal.

Cain: No. I don't believe a woman should have an abortion. Does that help to clear it up?

Stossel: Even if she is raped?

Cain: Even if she is raped or the victim of incest because there are other options. We must protect the sanctity of life and I have always believed that. Real clear.

A generous interpretation of this exchange would be that Cain was saying, as he did on "Piers Morgan," that the government should not ban abortion for pregnancies that result from rape. But if so, it's awfully hard to tell.

A request to clarify Cain's position was not immediately answered by his campaign staff.

Over the summer, Cain was one of only a few Republican candidates who did not sign the Susan B. Anthony List's Pro-Life Presidential Pledge, which asks candidates to commit to nominating judges and cabinet members who believe the government should ban abortion, end all taxpayer funding of the abortion, and advance a bill that would add severe restrictions on the procedure.

Cain received criticism for choosing not to align with the group, but he said that he still supported their goals.

"I have been a consistent and unwavering champion of pro-life issues," Cain said in a statement at the time about his decision not to sign the pledge. "In no way does this singular instance of clarification denote an abandonment of the pro-life movement, but instead, is a testament to my respect for the balance of power and the role of the presidency."

But Cain has not always described his opposition to abortion rights as "unwavering."

"Too many people in the electorate are single-issue voters, and to try and cater to the single-issue voters and the single-issue pockets out there felt like I was compromising my beliefs," Cain said in 1998 interview with Nation's Restaurant News, according Katrina Trinko at National Review. "As an example, with the pro-life and pro-abortion debate, the most vocal people are on the ends. I am pro-life with exceptions, and people want you to be all or nothing."

At some point, whether during a debate or in a lengthy interview, Cain will be forced to clarify where he stands. Would he appoint Supreme Court justices who want to overturn Roe v. Wade? Would he support a constitutional amendment to prohibit abortion?

"I can have an opinion on an issue without it being a directive on the nation," Cain told Piers Morgan. "The government shouldn't be trying to tell people everything to do, especially when it comes to social decisions that they need to make."

At least one of Cain's opponents in the Republican presidential campaign, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, has labeled Cain "pro-choice" in reaction to his comments on CNN.

"Herman's pro-choice position is similar to those held by John Kerry, Barack Obama and many others on the liberal left," Santorum said Thursday in a statement. "It is unconscionable for Herman to run for the nomination of the party that stands in defense of life while showing disregard for the sanctity of life. You cannot be both personally against abortion while condoning it--you can't have it both ways. We must defend the defenseless, period."

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