Election 2008


Rudy Giuliani's departure from the presidential race means that once again the Republican nominee will oppose abortion rights and the Democratic nominee will be pro-choice. Many voters still seem to believe, incorrectly, that the Republican frontrunner Senator John McCain is also pro-choice. NPR's Julie Rovner explores the origins of this misimpression.

JULIE ROVNER: It's not like John McCain tries 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."

Senator JOHN McCAIN (Republican, Arizona; Republican Presidential Candidate): I have stated time after time, after time, that Roe v. Wade was a bad decision. That I support the rights of the unborn. I have fought for human rights, and human dignity throughout my entire political career - to me is an issue of human rights and human dignity.

ROVNER: And while now former candidate Fred Thompson 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 groups Executive Director.

Mr. DAVID O'STEEN (Executive Director, National Right to Life Committee): He's been very consistent. He hasn't changed his position. National Right to Life's PAC supported Senator McCain in, my recollection is, every one of his Senate races. And we've always considered him pro-life.

ROVNER: 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.

Ms. NANCY KEENAN (President, NARAL Pro-Choice America): He voted against family planning. He voted against the freedom of access to clinic entrances. That was about violence against women in clinics. He voted against funding for teen pregnancy prevention programs and making sure that abstinence-only was medically accurate. I mean this is very, very extreme.

ROVNER: So how then do you explain the fact that in Florida last week McCain won 45 percent of Republican voters who said abortion should be legal? That's nearly twice the total of Mitt Romney who used to be pro-choice but now says he's changed his mind. And Rudy Giuliani, who says he still is pro-choice, got just 19 percent of those pro-choice voters. NARAL's Nancy 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.

Ms. KEENAN: I think it comes back to that moderate maverick image that he's trying to portray, but when you peel the onion back the record shows that this is a guy who has been very, very anti-choice since he entered the United States House of Representatives back in 1983.

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

Mr. O'STEEN: The McCain-Feingold act limited the ability of non PACs to even mention the name of a candidate within 30 days of a primary, 60 days of a general election.

ROVNER: In other words, it 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 if he becomes the Republican nominee, they'll work hard to make sure voters know what his abortion position really is. Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

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