Herman Cain's (Accidentally?) Pro-Choice Interview

October 20, 2011 12:19 pm ET — Kate Conway

Herman Cain

Last night, GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain seemed to take a surprisingly enlightened stance on women's reproductive rights. During a discussion with CNN's Piers Morgan, Cain started out by stating, "I believe that life begins at conception, and abortion under no circumstances." Yet shortly thereafter, Cain explained that he "can have an opinion on an issue without it being a directive on the nation" and emphatically affirmed a woman's right to make her own decision about her pregnancy — at least in the case of rape:

MORGAN: But you've had children, grandchildren. If one of your female children, grandchildren, was raped, you would honestly want her to bring up that baby as her own?

CAIN: You're mixing two things here, Piers.


CAIN: You're mixing two things.

MORGAN: But that's what it comes down to.

CAIN: No, it comes down to it's not the government's role or anybody else's role to make that decision. Secondly, if you look at the statistical incidence, you're not talking about that big a number, so what's 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 expressed, you are effectively telling them— You might be president. You can't hide between now the mask, now, if you don't mind me saying, 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 social decision that they need to make.


Perhaps, just as he has seemed to shed some of his bigotry towards American Muslims as he struggles to work through the issues in front of a national audience, Cain has also gained some genuine insight into the arguments for keeping abortion legal, especially in the cases of rape and incest.

Alternatively, Cain has simply gotten tripped up by the inconsistency of the GOP's various positions on when and where the government ought to intervene in personal decisions or get between a patient and her doctor. After all, the opinions he's expressed on abortion have been so incoherent that New York magazine's Dan Amira speculated that Cain has no idea what the debate is about. And expressing such a progressive position on reproductive rights, intentionally or not, can't be good news for Cain's presidential bid. As Jonathan Bernstein writes, "Republicans certainly would never nominate anyone who was actually pro-choice, and anti-abortion activists won't forgive anyone who stumbled this badly on the issue."