Does Herman Cain Understand the Abortion Debate?

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Now that former pizza chain CEO Herman Cain is somehow dominating the GOP primary field, he's going to receive much more scrutiny, from his opponents and from the media, than ever before. Not just regarding his 9-9-9 tax plan, or his mostly nonexistent policy views, but on a wide range of common issues that it doesn't seem like he's totally prepared to discuss. Take abortion, for example. About three months ago, when he was still mired in the low single digits, Cain made an appearance on the Fox Business Network show with John Stossel, the nation's foremost mustachioed libertarian. When Stossel asked Cain his views on abortion, a topic that any presidential candidate should expect, Cain laid out a contradictory, confusing mess of a position.

So, wait, what was that? Cain says "people shouldn't just be free to abort," but also says that "government shouldn't make that decision." He thinks that if a woman is raped, getting an abortion is "her choice, that is not government's choice," but then adds that abortion shouldn't be allowed in the case of rape "because there are other options" and "we must protect the sanctity of life."

It was as if Cain had no familiarity with or understanding of the role that government plays in the debate over abortion rights. He had simply gathered some common abortion-related words and phrases — "her choice," "government's decision", "sanctity of life" — then randomly assembled them into sentences. Poor Stossel was left on the verge of speechlessness. Columnist Ellis Henican, who was seated next to Cain during this fiasco, can be seen at one point with his mouth agape in shock and bewilderment, as if Cain has just admitted to despising Ronald Reagan.

Yesterday, three months after his disastrous Stossel interview, Cain was asked about abortion again in an interview on Meet the Press. Cain did much better this time (a pretty low bar, admittedly), but he still left some questions about his beliefs.

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Cain tells Gregory that he's against abortion without exception, even in cases of rape or incest (putting him to the right, by the way, of both Mitt Romney and Rick Perry). But when asked whether his opposition also applies to cases in which the life of the mother is at risk, Cain repeats this vague response three times: "That family is going to have to make that decision."

So, if the family is making the decision, then abortion would be legal in that scenario, right? Which seems to conflict with what Cain said a moment earlier about not "agree[ing] with abortion under any circumstances." Perhaps Cain is having difficulty distinguishing what he believes from what the law should allow. It's clear that Cain doesn't personally support abortion under any situation, but on the much more important question of what aspects of abortion should be legal or illegal, Cain's position is something of a mystery. He'll clarify it eventually, we're sure. The 0-0-0 abortion plan, maybe? Zero abortions in the case of rape, zero abortions in the case of incest, and zero abortions when the life of the mother is in danger.