Is it his problem? Or does it reflect something else about the GOP?
Herman Cain has an abortion issue problem. But so does the Republican Party.
In an interview with John Stossel Mr. Cain gave answers which seemed contradictory saying on the one hand that he is pro-life but on the other hand that the decision of a woman to have an abortion if she is raped is “her choice. Not the government’s choice.”
And more: “I don’t believe government should make that decision.” Followed by “No, people shouldn’t be just free to abort.”
Mr. Stossel was justifiably confused by Cain’s remarks, but I think I understand them. Cain did not say that a woman should be prevented from having an abortion, but simply that he believes a woman should choose not to have an abortion.
I don’t have the slightest doubt that Herman Cain is, in his own personal belief system, firmly, consistently anti-abortion. Indeed, I defy any Republican candidate in this nation’s history to be able to match Cain’s record of having committed $1 million of his own money to a pro-life advertising campaign. In particular, Cain funded a series of ads aimed at getting black voters to vote for pro-life candidates rather than blindly voting for Democrats.
But Cain’s argument on Stossel was essentially libertarian, and it’s a position he reiterated, if clumsily and apparently with an intuition that he might have been stepping in a pile of political Shinola, on Piers Morgan’s show on CNN last week: After saying that he believes life begins at conception, when pressed about a rape victim seeking an abortion he offered “it’s not the government’s role or anybody else’s role to make that decision.” Further, “whatever they decide, they decide. I shouldn’t try to tell them what decision to make.”
Dare I say this on pages frequented by Republicans? Hallelujah, Brother Herman.
As heretical as this will sound to the GOP faithful, Herman Cain’s true position, as I read the man, is perhaps the best possible position for a candidate in an American presidential election.
Gallup has been polling on this issue for 35 years. With respect to the question of whether respondents are pro-choice or anti-abortion, there is no doubt that the trend has been slowly but surely toward pro-life in this country… but decades of that movement has gotten us to a country that is evenly divided.
However, that is not the most pertinent Gallup result to consider. They also ask a more detailed question, namely whether respondents think abortion should be always legal, sometimes legal, or always illegal.
The percentage of Americans (or at least of Gallup respondents) who believe abortion should always be illegal has never been higher than 23 percent (reached only once, in 2009), and has generally ranged between 18 and 22 percent for the past decade. While this number hovered closer to 15 percent in the 1990s, it was between 17 percent and 22 percent for all but two polls between 1975 and 1991 and thus is not in the uncharted territory that anti-abortion activists might believe or claim.
The percentage of Gallup respondents who think abortion should be “legal under any circumstances” has been between 21 percent and 30 percent, frequently coming in at 26 percent, in every poll for the past fifteen years. The percentage was higher in the early 1990s, in the 30s in every poll from 1990 through 1995, prior to which it was again between 21 and 29 percent in each poll from 1975 to 1989. Again, today’s numbers are startlingly similar to the numbers of three decades ago.
Those who say that abortion should be “legal only under certain circumstances” have only twice in the history of the Gallup series been less than the majority, and those results occurred in 1992 when the percentage who said that abortion should always be legal reached its high point, 34 percent. Other than these two extremely pro-choice poll results, the percentage who believe that abortion should be legal sometimes ranged between 50 and 59 percent in every poll but one (that one being a 61 percent result in 1997).
In short, although Americans respond that they are pro-choice and pro-life in roughly equal proportions, there is a large subset of both groups — but a larger subset of pro-life — whose position is supportive of allowing abortion in certain cases.
Considering that most Republican presidential candidates argue that abortion should be illegal “without exceptions”, this puts them at odds with three quarters of the American public. Indeed, during the entire 35 years of Gallup polling on this question, only once has the combination of those who think abortion should be always legal and those who think it should be sometimes legal come in at 75 percent; every other time it has been higher, usually over 80 percent.