Politico senior political writer Jonathan Martin, in a February 20 entry to his Politico.com weblog, reported that former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) "is attacking" Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) over the senator's stance on abortion, and included the text of an email Romney sent to influential conservatives "highlighting various news clips about McCain's stance on abortion, bolding and italicizing those lines that call into question the senator's commitment to ending the practice." Martin criticized Romney, who has reversed position on abortion rights, for "tak[ing] shots at the record of a consistently pro-life opponent." In fact, as Media Matters for America has noted, McCain has made several inconsistent statements on abortion rights, eliciting charges from several Republicans and conservatives that McCain, as the San Francisco Chronicle put it, was "trying to please both sides" on the abortion issue. But despite including in his post Romney's document questioning McCain's "commitment to ending" abortion, and despite McCain's inconsistent positions on Roe v. Wade, Martin characterized McCain as "consistently pro-life."
The campaign of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, whose stance on abortion has often been hard to pin down, now is attacking Sen. John McCain on the issue, accusing the Arizonan of ducking the debate over the right to life since his 2000 presidential bid.
"Ask the pro-life movement where his leadership has been in the six years since 2000 that he's been running for president," says Gary Marx, who is charged with handling conservative outreach for Romney. "What has he done?"
But isn't it a bit audacious for the campaign of a candidate who was, in his own words, "effectively pro-choice" as late as his 2002 gubernatorial run, to now take shots at the record of a consistently pro-life opponent?
As Media Matters for America documented, Mike Allen, The Politico's chief political correspondent, has cast McCain both as "socially moderate" and "staunchly anti-abortion," ignoring McCain's inconsistencies on abortion. On August 25, 1999, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that McCain had told its editorial board:
"I'd love to see a point where it is irrelevant and could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary.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 vs. Wade, which would then force X number of women in America to (undergo) illegal and dangerous operations."
Several days later, he issued what the San Francisco Chronicle called a "clarification," reportedly saying: "I have always believed in the importance of the repeal of Roe vs. Wade, and as president, I would work toward its repeal." McCain added:
"If Roe v. Wade were repealed tomorrow, it would force thousands of young women to undergo dangerous and illegal operations. I will continue to work with both pro-life and pro-choice Americans so that we can eliminate the need for abortions to be performed in this country."
The Chronicle further noted that McCain's vacillation drew criticism from fellow Republicans and conservatives:
Those statements kicked up severe criticism from some Republicans that McCain, considered a plain-spoken maverick, appeared to be trying to please both sides on an issue that has been at the top of the political radar in California in recent elections. "It's very hard to finesse the issue of abortion, and Senator McCain is finding that," said Jeff Bell, senior political consultant for rival GOP presidential candidate Gary Bauer. "He's got a problem. He has a down-the-line pro-life voting record in (Congress). ... To say you're going to work with both sides is easier said than done."
Bauer called McCain's statements "unintelligible," and a spokeswoman for the Steve Forbes campaign accused the Arizona senator of "stuttering and stammering" on the issue.
Columnist George Will was even more blistering: "How can McCain square what he told The Chronicle with the answer 'yes' that he gave last year in response to the question, Do you support the complete reversal of Roe vs. Wade?' Or with this, from February 25 and July 22, 1998: 'I am a lifelong, ardent supporter of unborn children's right to life.' "
On the January 21, 2001, edition of NBC's Meet the Press, McCain said, "You can't" overturn Roe v. Wade without "get[ting] a majority of the American citizens to be convinced that there's great validity to your point of view" because "then it goes back to the states, and then the debate and discussion would take place in the respective 50 states":
TIM RUSSERT (host): You heard [first lady] Laura Bush say that Roe v. Wade should not be overturned. [Then-Attorney General nominee] John Ashcroft said it's settled law and that the new president would not seek to overturn it. Is that a good result? Should people across the country say, "We're not going to overturn Roe v. Wade"?
McCAIN: Well, I think it's a recognition of reality, number one, and number two is, a lot of us have said for a long time, "We have to change the hearts and minds of the American people. We have to convince them about the sanctity of human life." That's the way you win. You've got to get a majority of the American citizens to be convinced that there's great validity to your point of view.
RUSSERT: If you tried to overturn Roe v. Wade without doing that, it would --
McCAIN: You can't do it. And if you did overturn Roe v. Wade, then it goes back to the states, and then the debate and discussion would take place in the respective 50 states.
However, as the weblog Think Progress noted, McCain said that "it's very likely or possible that a Supreme Court should -- could overturn Roe v. Wade, which would then return these decisions to the states, which I support that ... because I'm a federalist."
In 2006, McCain also issued a statement indicating that if he were the governor of South Dakota, he "would have signed" a controversial bill outlawing all abortions except when the life of the woman is threatened, but that he "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." As New York Times columnist Paul Krugman noted: "But that attempt at qualification makes no sense: the South Dakota law has produced national shockwaves precisely because it prohibits abortions even for victims of rape or incest."