Misperceptions About McCain's Abortion Stance

Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's departure from the presidential race earlier this week means that once again, whoever the Republicans nominate will oppose abortion rights and whoever the Democrats nominate will be pro-choice. Many Republican voters, however, seem to believe, incorrectly, that the current Republican front-runner, Arizona Sen. John McCain, supports abortion rights, too.

The misperception is interesting, considering that McCain has not attempted to keep his pro-life views a secret. Here's how he put it on an appearance last year on NBC's Meet the Press:

"I have stated time after time after time that Roe v Wade was a bad decision, that I support a woman — the rights of the unborn — that I have fought for human rights and human dignity throughout my entire political career," McCain said. "To me, it's an issue of human rights and human dignity."

And while now former candidate Fred Thompson, the former senator from Tennessee, won the coveted endorsement from the National Right to Life Committee, McCain's voting record on the issue is just fine, says David O'Steen, the group's executive director.

"He's been very consistent; he hasn't changed his position," O'Steen says. He says that his group has supported McCain in every one of his senate races. "We've always considered him pro-life," he says.

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, says her group has always considered McCain pro-life as well. And it's not just abortion, she says.

"He voted against family planning, he voted against the freedom of access to clinic entrances — that was about violence against women in clinics," Keenan says, adding, "He voted against funding for teen pregnancy-prevention programs, and making sure that abstinence only was medically accurate. This is very, very extreme."

Yet in Florida's GOP primary on Jan. 29, McCain won 45 percent of Republican voters who said abortion should be legal. That's nearly twice the total of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who used to be pro-choice, but now says he has changed his mind. And Giuliani, who says he still is pro-choice, received just 19 percent of those pro-choice voters.

NARAL's Keenan thinks it's because voters see McCain splitting with Republicans on so many other issues, they assume he must split with them when it comes to abortion as well.

"I think it comes back to that moderate maverick image that he's tried to portray," Keenan says. "But when you peel the onion back, the record shows that this is a guy who's been very anti-choice since he entered the U.S. House of Representatives back in 1983."

Those pro-choice McCain voters may also remember the very public feud McCain has had with the National Right to Life Committee. But that argument wasn't over abortion, says the NRLC's O'Steen; it was over the campaign finance measure that McCain sponsored with Wisconsin Sen. Russ Feingold, a Democrat.

"The McCain-Feingold Act limited the ability of non-PACS [political action committees] to even mention the name of a candidate within 30 days of a primary, or 60 days of a general election," O'Steen says.

In other words, the dispute was a freedom of speech issue.

McCain's pro-life record isn't totally spotless: He did vote in favor of expanding federal funding of embryonic stem-cell research. But both pro-choice and pro-life groups say that if McCain becomes the Republican nominee, they'll work hard to make sure voters know what his abortion position really is.

2008 Election Issues: Candidate Positions

Read side-by-side comparisons of what the Democratic and Republican presidential hopefuls have said on the issues on voters' minds:

Economy

Last fall, as the subprime housing crisis intensified, the economy replaced the war in Iraq as the top concern for Americans. It's quite possible that the economy will remain the top issue until the elections. That's because the bad debts generated by the subprime debacle have caused a credit crunch that, along with record high energy prices, appears to be dragging the U.S. economy into recession. There are even fears of a global downturn.

These concerns have caused wild gyrations in the financial markets, dramatic interest rate cuts by the Federal Reserve and efforts to stimulate the economy by the White House and Congress. The economic situation has compelled the presidential candidates of both parties to hone their economic positions and provide their own ideas about how to avoid a recession. Read a quick summary of their economic views.

Iraq

Few issues divide Republican and Democratic presidential candidates more than Iraq. The Democrats talk about "ending the war" and "bringing the troops home." Republican candidates talk about "success" and "victory" in the region.

But go beyond the bumper sticker quotes and it gets a little muddy.

All the major Democratic candidates say they want to bring the troops home. But they also want to keep some U.S. troops in Iraq to go after al-Qaida, protect diplomats and aid workers. They are vague as to how long those troops would stay. And the Republican candidates talk of success and victory, but with little detail. Read more on where the presidential candidates stand on Iraq.

Health Care

Health care is once again near the top of voters' concerns — a position it has not held since the 1992 presidential race. A December 2007 poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that health ranked second among issues voters want policymakers to address — following only the war in Iraq — among Democrats, Republicans and independents.

That may help explain why Democrats and Republicans running for president have offered up comprehensive health care policy proposals during the primary phase of their campaigns. Read a sampling of each candidate's health care proposals.

Immigration

Immigration provides one of the clearest contrasts between the parties. While both Democrats and Republicans advocate various enforcement measures, most of the Republican contenders reject legalizing an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants now in the U.S.; all the Democratic contenders support it. GOP candidates have highlighted their get-tough approach, while Democrats have generally avoided the topic unless asked.

Read a breakdown of the candidates' votes and positions on some of the main immigration legislation in recent years.

Climate Change

Climate change is moving to the front burner for many of the candidates vying for the Democratic and Republican nominations in 2008. The new awareness results from several factors: A growing consensus among Americans on the left and right that global warming issues must be addressed; concern over imported oil from the Middle East; and the newfound muscle of California's eco-voters, thanks to their state's early primary this year. Read what the presidential candidates have said so far.

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