Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman

Is McCain Shifting to the Center on Abortion?

What IS John McCain’s position on abortion and life issues? That may seem like an odd question. He has just appointed an antiabortion heroine to his ticket and approved the most antiabortion Republican platform ever. Surely if anything is certain in this shifting campaign it’s that John McCain is ardently against abortion.
Not if you go by his statements this past week.
On The View, he was asked about abortion, and said he wanted to overturn Roe v. Wade. That’s no change. But his emphasis was fascinating. First, he stressed that he would not impose a litmus test in favor of antiabortion (or abortion rights) judges. Then, instead of arguing that Roe needed to be overturned because abortion is wrong, he emphasized a states’ rights position – that the state government, not the Supreme Court, should decide.


Elisabeth Hasselbeck: “So it was in how Roe v. Wade came apart that’s the issue. You want it to be through the Constitution from the people not from the bench.”
Sen. McCain: “And I believe that if Roe v. Wade were overturned then the states would make these decisions.”

Later he said, “I had committed myself to a pro-life position because I happen to believe that life begins at conception, but that is an issue that I respect other people’s views on.” If you didn’t know better, you’d think he was saying he was antiabortion but wouldn’t impose that view on others.
Compare that to the Republican platform, which goes well beyond overturning Roe, endorsing a constitutional amendment to ban abortion in all 50 states, even in cases of rape and incest. Sen. McCain has said he supports the platform but mysteriously didn’t mention the ban during his comments on The View.
Delighting Conservatives at Saddleback
Or compare his View comments to what he said at Saddleback Church on Aug. 16 when he delighted the conservative crowd with his ardently antiabortion views – “I will be a pro-life president and this presidency will have pro-life policies” — and didn’t mention states’ rights at all.
In her interview with Charlie Gibson, Sarah Palin followed the lead of her ticket-mate, emphasizing that while she’s personally antiabortion, “states should be able to decide that issue.” She then uttered a few words that had been deemed utterly inappropriate by the Republican Party’s platform committee just two weeks ago. An early platform draft had included this olive-branch sentence: “We invite all persons of good will, whether across the political aisle or within our party, to work together to reduce the incidence of abortion.” Religious conservatives deleted the sentence, arguing that it sounded too much like Democratic candidate Barack Obama.
But there was Alaska Gov. Palin with the olive-branch, telling Mr. Gibson that she wanted to “reach out and work with those who are on the other side of this issue, because I know that we can all agree on the need for and the desire for fewer abortions in America.” (For full texts of their statements on abortion, click here and
Then there’s the confusing new advertisement about stem cell research. The Republican platform this year called for a ban on all embryonic stem cell research. But a new McCain-Palin ad declares: “John McCain will lead his congressional allies to improve America’s health. Stem-cell research to unlock the mystery of cancer, diabetes, heart disease. Stem-cell research to help free families from the fear and devastation of illness. Stem-cell research to help doctors repair spinal cord damage, knee injuries, serious burns. Stem-cell research to help stroke victims.”
Technically, the ad doesn’t specify whether he meant embryonic stem cell but usually when politicians hit stem-cell research so hard they mean embryonic unless they specify otherwise.
Stirring Up New Questions
These new statements leave new questions: if Roe were overturned and Congress passed a ban on abortion, would they sign it (being pro-life) or veto it (since they want the states to decide)? Do they still support the Republican Party’s position in favor of a 50-state ban on all abortion? Does he support embryonic stem cell research in contradiction to the Republican platform?
Sen. McCain hasn’t done a blatant flip-flop. But his emphasis has shifted significantly, over time and depending on the audience. He now seems to be in partial conflict with the Republican platform.
At the Republican convention, the Family Research Council’s Connie Mackey told me how surprised religious conservatives were when Sen. McCain chose Gov. Palin as his running mate. They figured that since they won on the platform, they’d lose on the vice president. Instead they got both. They were thrilled.
Sen. McCain’s comments this week raise a different possibility: that by embracing a sharply antiabortion platform and running mate, he now feels free to move to the center on abortion to appeal to independent and pro-choice voters. He’s betting that antiabortion activists are now so invested in the success of the McCain-Palin ticket that they will cut him slack.
So far, they have – providing a sweet tactical assist to Sen. McCain’s operatives.
But this strategy carries some risks. The religious conservatives are energized by Gov. Palin, but if Sen. McCain goes too far to the center, he’ll end up reminding religious conservatives why they hated him in the first place. Gov. Palin might come to be viewed less as the woman who would transform John McCain as the heroine who was turned into a temporizing hack by John McCain.
Reprinted from Political Perceptions on the Wall Street Journal Online.

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posted September 17, 2008 at 9:16 am

Even a McCain in the middle is a conservative on abortion compared to the extreme abortion views of Obama. Obama says he wants to reduce the number of abortions. He wants to reverse the Mexico City Policy, which will then free up millions of tax dollars to be used for abortions in poor third world countries. This is reducing? He wants to pass the “Freedom of Choice” act, which would cancel out all restrictions on abortions in this country. That’s going reduce abortions? He voted against giving medical treatment to babies who born alive during an abortion. He recieves a 100% score from NARAL and Planned Parenthood for his support of abortion. He argued with Hillary that he was more pro-abortion than she was. Remember that about 35% of all abortions are black babies even though they are only 15% of the population. This is a race issue also. We don’t fear more black children. We want them. Who doesn’t want them?

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posted September 17, 2008 at 10:13 am

John McCain is wonderful, is there no issue he doesn’t change his tune on? I love how Johnny continues his SHAPE SHIFTING as if no one is going to notice.
A applaud him for doing this because it only reinforces his lack of mental stability. Keep it up, please!!!

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posted September 17, 2008 at 10:17 am

Its not a shift to the center its the Old McCain the guy he used to be before 2006.

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posted September 17, 2008 at 10:44 am

I don’t see him shifting his position so much as creating a kind of verbal fog about how much he’ll pursue the issue as President, and giving a slight nod to pro-choice voters by focusing on state’s rights, leaving open the possibility that many states will keep abortion legal.
Sill, so far as I can tell, you’re the only person following McCain’s views on abortion. I think that you’re probably correct, that the choice of Palin is allowing his verbal nuances to go unnoticed except by you and a few others.
I would point out that on Progressive Revival and the Daily Kos, which I also follow, there has been some talk about the abortion issue separate from Sen. Obama’s views on it. This tells me that many Democrats, such as myself, want a concerted effort to decrease abortions in this country if we’re going to remain pro-choice. I could just be seeing what I want to see, but it is interesting.

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Katie Angel

posted September 17, 2008 at 11:20 am

According to Obama’s platform, and his speeches, he wants to reduce abortions by providing strong family planning (birth control) information so less women have unwanted pregnancies in the first place, beef up the support for women who DO have unplanned pregnancies to make it feasible for them to keep the child (also known as pro-life AFTER a child is born, rather than just before) and improve the adoption system so that children can be more effectively adopted – one of the big stumbling blocks in the whole debate is the unwillingness of adoption agencies to place children across racial and ethnic lines. Making abortion illegal will not stop those with money from getting one – that was proved before Rove v. Wade – what it will do is force poor women to have children they do not want, or cannot afford, and cause there to be more children living in poverty. If we truly want to reduce the number of abortions, we need to attack the “source” of abortions – unplanned and unsustainable pregnancies.

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posted September 17, 2008 at 1:28 pm

taad – you are wrong about the “Freedom of Choice” act. Also see “Does Obama Support the Killing of Infants? (Kmiec on the Born Alive Bill)” for additional false statements that have been spreading about Obama
The “Freedom of Choice Act” does not increase any provision of Roe v Wade, which included the protection of a viable fetus.
The purpose of “Freedom of Choice Act” (S. 1173) is to prevent the Supreme Court from removing portions of Roe v. Wade, including protecting the health of a woman. It is not a difficult bill to read. I encourage everyone to read it. No action has been taken on the bill since 2007:

(4) The Roe v. Wade decision carefully balances the rights of women to make important reproductive decisions with the State’s interest in potential life. Under Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton, the right to privacy protects a woman’s decision to choose to terminate her pregnancy prior to fetal viability, with the State permitted to ban abortion after fetal viability except when necessary to protect a woman’s life or health.
(9) Further threatening Roe, the Supreme Court recently upheld the first-ever Federal ban on an abortion procedure, which has no exception to protect a woman’s health. The majority decision in Gonzales v. Carhart (05-380, slip op. April 18, 2007) and Gonzales v. Planned Parenthood Federation of America fails to protect a woman’s health, a core tenet of Roe v. Wade. Dissenting in that case, Justice Ginsburg called the majority’s opinion `alarming’, and stated that, `[f]or the first time since Roe, the Court blesses a prohibition with no exception safeguarding a woman’s health‘. Further, she said, the Federal ban `and the Court’s defense of it cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away at a right declared again and again by this Court’.

In this Act:
(1) GOVERNMENT- The term `government’ includes a branch, department, agency, instrumentality, or official (or other individual acting under color of law) of the United States, a State, or a subdivision of a State.
(2) STATE- The term `State’ means each of the States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and each territory or possession of the United States.
(3) VIABILITY– The term `viability’ means that stage of pregnancy when, in the best medical judgment of the attending physician based on the particular medical facts of the case before the physician, there is a reasonable likelihood of the sustained survival of the fetus outside of the woman.
(a) Statement of Policy- It is the policy of the United States that every woman has the fundamental right to choose to bear a child, to terminate a pregnancy prior to fetal viability, or to terminate a pregnancy after fetal viability when necessary to protect the life or health of the woman.
(b) Prohibition of Interference- A government may not–
(1) deny or interfere with a woman’s right to choose–
(A) to bear a child;
(B) to terminate a pregnancy prior to viability; or
(C) to terminate a pregnancy after viability where termination is necessary to protect the life or health of the woman; or
(2) discriminate against the exercise of the rights set forth in paragraph (1) in the regulation or provision of benefits, facilities, services, or information.
(C) Civil Action- An individual aggrieved by a violation of this section may obtain appropriate relief (including relief against a government) in a civil action.

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posted September 17, 2008 at 1:30 pm

I don’t know if McCain is shifting to the center or not but he’s certainly trying to make it look as though he is. Actually the last thing the Republican party really wants is to actually overturn Roe v. Wade. It brings out the base to vote and if the leaders of the religious right no longer had abortion to focus on they couldn’t justify their publicity seeking partisan political activity as Christian behavior. The Republican party and the James Dobsons, Rick Warrens, et al need abortion to stay legal in order to sustain the culture war.

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Charles Cosimano

posted September 17, 2008 at 3:17 pm

McCain is many things but a fool is not among them. He knows that if Roe is overturned, within two election cycles there would not be enough Republicans left in the Senate to sustain a filibuster against it being recodified in federal law.
Losing Roe would be the death of the Republican Party for a generation.

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