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Why McCain Wants GOP to Leave Abortion Alone

November 25, 2012

Appearing on Fox News Sunday morning, Arizona Senator John McCain urged his Republican Party to leave the abortion issue "alone." Given the drubbing among women voters the GOP endured thanks in part to anti-abortion extremists like Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, McCain's fear is well-founded. Well-founded and very personal. After all, the same John McCain who supported Roe v. Wade in 1999 less than a decade later was a pro-life Republican publically mocking "the health of the mother."
Speaking with host Chris Wallace, McCain suggested that in its quest for women voters, discretion was the better part of valor for Republicans:

McCAIN: I think we have to have a bigger tent. No doubt about it, and, obviously we have to do immigration reform. There is no doubt whatsoever that the demographics are not on our side and we are going to have to give a much more positive agenda. [...] And as far as young women are concerned, absolutely. I don't think anybody like me, I can state my position on abortion, but, to -- other than that, leave the issue alone. When we are in the kind of economic situation and, frankly, national security situation we're in.
CHRIS WALLACE (HOST): When you say leave the issue alone, you would allow, you say, freedom of choice?
McCAIN: I would allow people to have those opinions and respect those opinions and I'm proud of my pro-life position and record, but if someone disagrees with me, I respect your views.

Of course, during his unsuccessful 2008 run for President, John McCain wasn't very respectful at all.

McCain's jaw-dropper came during the final presidential debate in October 2008. After Senator Obama proclaimed, "I am completely supportive of a ban on late-term abortions, partial-birth or otherwise, as long as there's an exception for the mother's health and life," a sneering McCain resorted to "air quotes" to produce a defining moment for both the campaign and the debate of women's reproductive rights:

"Just again, the example of the eloquence of Sen. Obama. He's [for] health for the mother. You know, that's been stretched by the pro-abortion movement in America to mean almost anything. That's the extreme pro-abortion position, quote, 'health.'"

That was a far cry from the John McCain of 1999, who approached the 2000 election with much different view of abortion rights:

"I'd love to see a point where it is irrelevant, and could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary. But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to [undergo] illegal and dangerous operations."

If that language sounds hauntingly familiar, it should. After all, in 1994 Mitt Romney similarly announced his support for Roe v. Wade, a position inspired by the death of a "dear, close family relative" from an illegal abortion. But like Romney, McCain underwent a pro-life about-face in order to win over conservative GOP primary voters. As this exchange with ABC's George Stephanopoulos shows, McCain's reversal was complete by 2006:

STEPHANOPOULOS: Let me ask one question about abortion...You're for a constitutional amendment banning abortion, with some exceptions for life and rape and incest.
MCCAIN: Rape, incest and the life of the mother. Yes.
STEPHANOPOULOS: So is President Bush, yet that hasn't advanced in the six years he's been in office. What are you going to do to advance a constitutional amendment that President Bush hasn't done?
MCCAIN: I don't think a constitutional amendment is probably going to take place, but I do believe that it's very likely or possible that the Supreme Court should - could overturn Roe v. Wade, which would then return these decisions to the states, which I support.
STEPHANOPOULOS: And you'd be for that?
MCCAIN: Yes, because I'm a federalist. Just as I believe that the issue of gay marriage should be decided by the states, so do I believe that we would be better off by having Roe v. Wade return to the states. And I don't believe the Supreme Court should be legislating in the way that they did on Roe v. Wade.

As it turned out, McCain's Republican Party had other ideas. In 2008 and again in 2012, the Republican National Convention ignored its nominee and adopted a platform endorsing a "human life amendment" which would prohibit all abortions in all cases.
It's no wonder John McCain doesn't want to talk about it.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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