I'm a bit mystified that I'm even asking this question, frankly, because I simply assumed Cain was rock solid on the life issue -- but after a puzzling interview with CNN's Piers Morgan, I'm not sure what to think any more. The abortion discussion begins around the 2:05 mark:
He starts out by saying he believes that life begins at conception, and that he supports "abortion under no circumstances." When Morgan presses him on the government's role in enforcing that belief -- an exchange that at least begins with a hypothetical question about a rape exception -- Cain begins to sound a lot like a "personally opposed to abortion, but still pro-choice" candidate. If you didn't know the following quote came out of Herman Cain's mouth, I wouldn't blame you for presuming its source was a Democrat:
No, it comes down to is, 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. [Note: I think those first few sentences dealt with the rape question, but he goes on...] 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...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.
I went to Cain's website, seeking some clarity on his actual position. His "issues" page makes no mention of abortion, so I resorted to browsing through some of his public statements on this question. Philip Klein tweeted out this video of Cain on John Stossel's program, which only heightened my confusion. Try to make heads or tails out of this:
Huh? In that clip, Cain says he's pro-life and opposes abortion in all circumstances. Okay. But then Stossel asks if there are circumstances under which abortion shouldn't be legal, and Cain responds, "I don't think that government should make that decision." Again on the rape exception question, Cain says, "that's [the mother's] choice." Nanoseconds later, he asserts that abortion "should not be legal."
A few more data points: Cain refused to sign a pro-life pledge a few months back, but clarified that he believes in the bulk of its provisions, including the promise to appoint pro-life judges. He has also said he is in favor of a Human Life Amendment back in 2003, but was undecided on banning human cloning at the time. Can someone please explain how to reconcile all of these statements into one coherent legal/moral philosophy? Based on the two video clips above, my best guess is that Herman Cain deeply opposes all abortion on a personal and religious level, believes Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided (hence the pro-life judges bit), but really struggles to identify and articulate the government's proper role in codifying that belief structure.
This is a really tough issue. Cain's heart seems to be in the right place, but he appears to still be casting about for a cogent political and legal position on abortion. That's entirely understandable for, say, a college freshman fleshing out her own beliefs in a late-night philosophical discussion in her dorm, but is it acceptable for a mainstream presidential candidate? Several of the statements above would place Cain to the left of everyone else on Tuesday's debate stage, including (for now, at least) Mitt Romney. Then again, other comments would put him on the far right edge of the pack. Help, please.