Cain suggests abortion should be up to families

Republican presidential candidate businessman Herman Cain speaks during a Republican presidential debate, Oct. 18, 2011, in Las Vegas.
AP Photo/Chris Carlson
Republican presidential candidate businessman Herman Cain speaks during a Republican presidential debate, Oct. 18, 2011, in Las Vegas
AP Photo/Chris Carlson

Updated 1:32 p.m. Eastern Time

Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain appeared to break with his Republican rivals during an interview on CNN Wednesday evening, suggesting that decisions about whether to have an abortion should be left to families, not made by the government.

Cain seemed to contradict himself in the interview. He first said that he believes "that life begins at conception," telling Piers Morgan: "Abortion under no circumstances." Pressed on whether that includes cases of rape and incest, Cain seemed to say yes. (From the transcript: MORGAN: "Rape and incest?" CAIN: "Rape and incest.")

But Cain then accused his interviewer of "mixing two things here" and seemed to reverse himself, saying, "it's not the government's role or anybody else's role to make that decision."

"So what I'm saying is it ultimately gets down to a choice that that family or that mother has to make," said Cain. "Not me as president, not some politician, not a bureaucrat. It gets down to that family. And whatever they decide, they decide. I shouldn't have to tell them what decision to make for such a sensitive issue."

Cain went on to say that "I can have an opinion on an issue without it being a directive on the nation."

"The government shouldn't be trying to tell people everything to do, especially when it comes to social decisions that they need to make," he said.

Representatives for Cain told CBS News they were working on a clarification of Cain's comments on Thursday morning, but they have yet to provide one. The candidate posted a Tweet around 1:00 p.m. Eastern reading, "I'm 100% pro-life. End of story."

Appearing on "Meet the Press" Sunday, Cain said, "I do not believe in abortion under any circumstances. Not for rape and incest."

On Wednesday night, however, he seemed to separate what he personally believes from what he believes the policy of the U.S. government should be.  A Baptist minister, Cain has largely taken strong conservative positions on social issues, suggesting, for example, that homosexuality is both a sin and a choice. Yet he is also an advocate of reducing the government's influence on the lives of Americans, a notion that squares with his suggestion that decisions on abortion should not be made by politicians.    

Update: And Rick Santorum pounces.

"Herman Cain said that he believes life begins at conception, but that it's up to the individual to decide whether or not to terminate that life. And I find it gravely troubling that Herman believes it's a life, but that he doesn't consider it a life worth fighting for," Santorum said Thursday morning.

"As the author of the partial birth abortion ban and other pro-life pieces of legislation, this is the exact mentality myself and other true pro-life advocates fought against," he continued. "In fact, Herman's pro-choice position is similar to those held by John Kerry, Barack Obama and many others on the liberal left. No, Herman, it is not 'whatever they decide,' this is an innocent human life. It is unconscionable for Herman to run for the nomination of the Party that stands in defense of Life while showing disregard for the sanctity of Life. You cannot be both personally against abortion while condoning it - you can't have it both ways. We must defend the defenseless, period."

Cain's abortion comments could prove damaging in Iowa