An editorial in the Los Angeles Times misrepresented the position of President Bush on a South Dakota law banning all abortions except in cases in which a woman's life is threatened by a pregnancy. MSNBC host Chris Matthews also misstated Sen. John McCain's position on the bill.
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The Los Angeles Times editorial page claimed that President Bush has publicly opposed a South Dakota law banning all abortions except in cases in which a woman's life is threatened by a pregnancy. Similarly, MSNBC host Chris Matthews claimed that Bush and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) "keep saying it isn't the time to make changes in the law" to outlaw abortion. But, contrary to the Times' assertion, White House press secretary Scott McClellan refused to state Bush's position on the South Dakota law. And belying Matthews's claim that McCain "keep[s] saying it isn't the time to make changes in the law," McCain, through a spokesman, said that the senator "would have signed" the South Dakota bill but added that McCain "would also take the appropriate steps under state law -- in whatever state -- to ensure that the exceptions of rape, incest or life of the mother were included" -- without explaining how he could do both.
In a March 8 editorial, the Los Angeles Times stated that "Bush publicly disagrees with the South Dakota law, saying he favors abortion rights in cases of rape or incest (although not necessarily to protect a woman's health)." But at a March 7 White House press briefing, McClellan repeatedly declined to say whether Bush supported the South Dakota law, characterizing the law as "a state matter." From the press briefing:
REPORTER: So, again -- now it's going to wend its way through the courts. Will the administration weigh in, in the appeals process that is going to inevitably --
McCLELLAN: Again, this is a state -- this is a state law.
REPORTER: No, but it's going to become a federal matter --
McCLELLAN: It's a state matter.
REPORTER: He is opposed to abortion laws that forbid it for rape and incest --
McCLELLAN: Les, look at the president --
REPORTER: Isn't that true, Scott? That's what you said.
McCLELLAN: Les, let me respond. Look at the president's record when it comes to defending the sanctity of life. That is a very strong record. His views when it comes to pro-life issues are very clearly spelled out. We also have stated repeatedly that state legislatures, when they pass laws, those are state matters.
At a February 27 press briefing, McClellan also declined to say whether Bush supported the South Dakota bill, but stated Bush's opposition to abortion except in cases of rape, incest, or a threat to a woman's health. From the press briefing:
REPORTER: The state legislature of South Dakota has just passed a new law which allows abortion in case of threat to the mother's life but denies it to all ages in cases of rape and incest. My first question: Does the president believe that rape and incest victims should be denied the right to an abortion?
McCLELLAN: The president believes we ought to be working to build a culture of life in America. And we have taken practical, common-sense steps to help reduce the number of abortions in America. It is a strong record that is based on building a culture of life, and the president has made very clear that he is pro-life with three exceptions.
On the March 7 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, Matthews stated that "President Bush and John McCain, two leaders of the Republican party, keep saying it isn't the time to make changes in the law" to outlaw abortion. In making the assertion about McCain, Matthews ignored a statement by a McCain spokesman, quoted by The National Journal's weblog The Hotline (subscription required), that if McCain were the South Dakota governor, he " 'would have signed the [South Dakota] legislation, but would also take the appropriate steps under state law -- in whatever state -- to ensure that the exceptions of rape, incest or life of the mother were included.' " While McCain's spokesman's statement is inconclusive in that it contains two assertions that, without more detail, make little sense together (the spokesman did not say that McCain would sign only if he secured the desired amendments, merely that he would sign -- and he would seek to amend -- the bill) McCain did take a position on a highly controversial and restrictive bill that was different from what Matthews claimed McCain "keep[s] saying."
From the March 8 Los Angeles Times editorial:
Bush publicly disagrees with the South Dakota law, saying he favors abortion rights in cases of rape or incest (although not necessarily to protect a woman's health). But his recent Supreme Court appointments have certainly made opponents of abortion rights more audacious, if not more hopeful. At this point, it's unlikely that he or his party will be able to distance themselves from this mangled bit of lawmaking -- disastrous in both its intent and its potential political fallout.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about the politics. I know you're concerned about the moral issue here, Tony, but the political issue -- it seems to me that all these years since `73, the conservatives, the pro-life people, have benefited from the fact that the courts have intervened and said you have the right to an abortion, so therefore a person could be voting Republican and not worry about abortion, because it's basically off the table. Bringing it back on the table, is that good for the Republican Party and conservatives?
PERKINS: I think it's good for those policymakers who want to actually make policy.
MATTHEWS: President Bush and John McCain, two leaders of the Republican Party, keep saying it isn't the time to make changes in the law like that. We have to have the country's heart ready for it. It isn't right to outlaw it now.