Herman Cain is being falsely – or at best, incorrectly – accused of flipping his position on abortion. What he actually did was express a nuanced, if not particularly well worded, opinion on what happens if abortion is considered in cases of rape or incest.
Let’s look at the interviews that have gotten him into trouble, one with Piers Morgan of CNN and the other with John Stossel of Fox. If you read closely, I think it’s clear that the rabid Commentariat has taken him out of context. And the press, whether by mistake, out of laziness or due to hostility to a conservative, has not done due diligence.
This is a transcript of the interview with Morgan.
MORGAN: What’s your view of abortion?
CAIN: I believe that life begins at conception and abortion under no circumstances — and here’s why.
MORGAN: No circumstances?
CAIN: No circumstances.
MORGAN: Because many of your fellow candidates — well, certainly, some of them — qualify that.
CAIN: They qualify it, but
MORGAN: rape, and incest, and so on.
CAIN: rape and incest
MORGAN: Are you honestly saying — a tricky question, I know
CAIN: a tricky question
MORGAN: You’ve had children, grandchildren
MORGAN: If one of your female children, grandchildren was raped, you would honestly want her to bring up that baby as her own?
CAIN: See, you’re mixing two things here, Piers.
CAIN: You’re mixing two things here.
MORGAN: But that’s what it comes down to.
CAIN: What it comes down to is 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 try to tell them what decision to make for such a sensitive decision.
MORGAN: But by expressing the view that you’ve expressed, you are effectively telling them. You might be president. You can’t hide behind the mask of being the pizza guy. You might be president of the 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 a social decision that they need to make.
MORGAN: That’s very interesting, that’s a very interesting departure from the normal politics.
And now here’s the one with Stossel.
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 abortbecause 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.
It’s very clear here that when Cain says government shouldn’t make the decision, he is responding not to requests for an opinion on abortion generally, but to questions about abortion in the cases of rape or incest. Here’s his explanation of what he was trying to say to Morgan:
I simply said, if you get pushed to that extent, the family isn’t going to be thinking about what the laws are at that point.
That makes perfect sense in the context of the conversations. He’s saying that the situation is so bad, that whatever the laws, in this very small number of nightmarish cases, people aren’t going to be looking to the government for guidance, and he as president isn’t going to be giving it.
Cain’s misfortune, as the only non-politician in the race, is that he has lived exclusively in the real world. He is discussing reality here, which is that some things are so horrible that people are going to do what they want, and that he as president isn’t going to preach to them about the choice they should make.
Nor is he an attorney who carefully lays out his argument with neat little caveats that have as much to do with using semantics to obscure meaning as they do with clarifying it. He didn’t put it as clearly as he could have, but he is also dealing with a subtlety that doesn’t work well in the grinding, instant-analysis media environment we have.
It’s actually a more intellectually sophisticated position than those of his critics and his GOP opponents. He’s saying abortion should be illegal in all cases, because government should not be condoning the taking of life. And once it does this in the earliest stages of life, it gets license to do it in the latter stages too.
But IN THE REAL WORLD, people who are faced with abortion decisions in cases of rape or incest are going to do what they’re going to do, and the government really isn’t going to try to find them and come after them for it.
He’s a real person who said a real thing that a mistaken, lazy or hostile press rushed to interpret. And they and the talking heads who are their TV appendages got it wrong.