Herman Cain’s Unethical Abortion Doubletalk

Republican presidential contender Herman Cain’s explanation of his position on abortion while chatting with CNN’s Piers Morgan is causing his growing legion of fans and supporters discomfort, and with good reason. It was ethically incoherent at best, unethical at worst. In either case, his comments show that he hasn’t devoted sufficient serious analysis to the issue to allow him to have a responsible and consistent approach. That is status quo for most Americans. It is not acceptable for a President of the United States.

Here is the relevant section of the interview (emphasis mine):

PIERS MORGAN: Abortion. What’s your view of abortion?

CAIN: I believe that life begins at conception. And abortion under no circumstances. And here’s why —

MORGAN: No circumstances?

CAIN: No circumstances.
MORGAN: Because many of your fellow candidates — some of them qualify that.

CAIN: They qualify but —

MORGAN: Rape and incest.

CAIN: Rape and incest.

MORGAN: Are you honestly saying — again, it’s a tricky question, I know.

CAIN: Ask the tricky question.

MORGAN: But you’ve had children, grandchildren. If one of your female children, grandchildren was raped, you would honestly want her to bring up that baby as her own?

CAIN: You’re mixing two things here, Piers?


CAIN: You’re mixing —

MORGAN: That’s what it comes down to.

CAIN: No, it comes down to it’s not the government’s role or anybody else’s role to make that decision. Secondly, if you look at the statistical incidents, you’re not talking about that big a number. So what I’m saying is it ultimately gets down to a choice that that family or that mother has to make. 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.

MORGAN: By expressing the view that you expressed, you are effectively — you might be president. You can’t hide behind now the mask, if you don’t mind me saying, of being the pizza guy. You might be the president of United States of America. So your views on these things become exponentially massively more important. They become a directive to the nation.

CAIN: No they don’t. 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.

MORGAN: That’s a very interesting departure —

CAIN: Yes.

MORGAN: — from the normal politics.

No, Piers…no, Herman, it’s not a departure at all. Cain’s position is a sadly common dodge among politicians who do not have the courage or integrity to take a clear position on a divisive and emotional issue, so they take both sides, and disingenuously trumpet their weasel words as being principled. This is the favorite bob-and weave of Catholic politicians like Joe Biden, John Kerry and Mario Cuomo, who perfected the deceit. Here is what I wrote about Kerry, when he told an Iowa newspaper in 2004,

”I oppose abortion, personally. I don’t like abortion. I believe life begins at conception. But I don’t take my Catholic beliefs, my article of faith, and legislate it on a Protestant, on a Jew, or an atheist who doesn’t share it. We have separation of church and state in the United States of America.”

“…Kerry is saying unequivocally that he believes a fetus is a human life, and thus that he must necessarily believe that abortion is the taking of a human life, that is to say,murder… Let us examine the possible explanations for this inexplicable position:

“Possible Explanation One. Kerry will not stand up for what he believes is right, even when it involves (by his own analysis) the taking of innocent life. This is, or should be, a disqualifying feature in any elected official, for any office in a republic. A public servant’s values are his compass; if these do not guide his actions, then they will be guided by crass political and selfish considerations alone. It is a position of moral cowardice.

“Possible Explanation Two. Kerry believes that ethical and moral standards are purely subjective, and that all value systems are equally valid. This thoroughly discredited (but, sadly, not uncommon) view says, “I may think what you’re doing is murder (or theft, or rape, or extortion, or terrorism), but if you think it’s OK, that’s your right.” This ethical stance is a call to anarchy, and an assault on the principle of the rule of law. It is, in fact, as assertion that societal ethical values do not, can not, and should not exist.

“Possible Explanation Three. Kerry is genuinely confused. In his interview, he explained his conduct by claiming that it is inappropriate for an elected official to use his religion-based beliefs to guide his policies. But the Constitution-mandated separation of church and state has never been interpreted to mean that it is inappropriate for a politician to support any value or position consistent with religious teachings. How could it? Does Kerry think it is inappropriate for a politician to oppose theft, for example, because the position is in concert with the Ten Commandments? Could Kerry possibly maintain that beliefs learned from parents, education or experience are a valid foundation for legislative action, but beliefs formed in church are not?”

All of these apply with equal force to Cain, who is saying the same thing but using a limited government rationalization rather than the separation of church and state nonsense that Kerry trotted out. Today I heard conservative D.C. talk-show host Chris Plante describe Cain’s answer to Morgan as “near-perfect.” A caller then challenged Plante, who typically talks down dissenters with breathless rapid-fire rants that leave no room for interruption, by saying this (paraphrasing…I don’t have the transcript):

“Cain said he was pro-life, and then said that whether or not to have an abortion is a personal, social choice. That isn’t pro-life. That’s pro-choice. If he thinks that a fetus is a human life with full protection of the laws, how can he say that it’s just a personal decision whether or not to end it that life? Is he arguing that the government is exceeding its power to prohibit murder? If he’s truly pro-life, as he says he is, then that has to be what he’s saying, and that’s just plain wrong.”

“Good point,” was Plante’s atypically terse response.

“Near-perfect response” my foot.

There are many positions on abortion that have ethical integrity:

1. A fetus is a human life from conception, with full rights and privileges or every other life in the Unired States. This means that the fetus’s life, life other lives, cannot be taken without due process of law, by the mother or anyone else. How the fetus was conceived, including by rape or incest, is irrelevant: a human life cannot be made less by the conditions of its creation. Such a life cannot be taken even to save the life of the mother.

2. A fetus is a human life from conception, but a life accorded lesser rights than a born and living human being. The fetus does not acquire these rights until birth, and thus up to the point of birth, may be sacrificed in order to save the life of the mother, but for no other reason.

3. A fetus is a potential human life with minimal rights that allow the mother, and only the mother to terminate it for any reason. As the fetus develops to viability, it gains in rights in respect to the mother, until at some point only the life/health of the mother can justify a legal and ethical termination.

4. A fetus is a human life with full rights except in relationship to the mother, who can always demand an abortion in order to save her life.

5. A fetus is not a human being with the rights of a person until birth, and can be aborted at any time, for any reason.

6. Human life does not begin until self-awareness. Differences between unborn viable children and born infants are artificial and arbitrary, and the mother should have the right to terminate the life of either as long as they are not self-aware.

The current position of the Supreme Court is closest to #3. I would not bet my head that there are not other ethically consistent variations on these six, but whether there are or not, Cain’s position, as he described to Piers Morgan, isn’t one of them.

Herman Cain’s position is that a fetus is a human being with full rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness with no exceptions, but if you feel like killing one of your own, that’s your option. It is a position, like Kerry’s*, that is devoid of ethical integrity, common sense or logic. Plain talking is a refreshing change in a presidential candidate, but plain double-talk is all too familiar. This issue demands better.


* I watched Morgan and a CNN anchor sneeringly mock Cain for this inconsistency, as if it was unique to him. I have never heard or read any mainstream media criticize the essentially identical positions of Kerry, Biden, Cuomo and others. Make of that what you will.

26 thoughts on “Herman Cain’s Unethical Abortion Doubletalk

  1. I have an issue with Possible Explanation 3 for Kerry. If a position is based on religion, it absolutely should not be legislated. In Catholocism, “life beings at conception” is dogma. Kerry said he believes it because his religion teaches it: “But I don’t take my Catholic beliefs, my article of faith..”. Legislating something he believes through religious faith would be a violation of the constitution. While you may agree with his general position for separate, secular reasons, that doesn’t make his reasons secular.

    You created a strawman:”inappropriate for a politician to support any value or position consistent with religious teachings” when the actual position was: “inappropriate for a politician to support any value or position determined by religious teachings.” Emphasis and second quote mine.

    Now, Kerry could have been using his faith to dodge the question, but the position advocated in his quote is the correct constitutional position.

    • Maybe we should replace the word belief with two separate words:

      BEFAITH – Something believed based on faith
      BEREASON – Something believed based on evidence


      CAIN: I believe that life begins at conception. And abortion under no circumstances.

      INTERVIEWER: Befaith or Bereason

      CAIN: Bereason. And here’s why…

      INTERVIEWER: You have reason for this, but you won’t support legislating it? What other of your professed positions will you not legislate?

      JACK: *happy dance*

      • I quoted this in the 2004 piece. Perhaps it will help: teh issue is conscience, which doesn’t distinguish between the two beliefs..it can’t.
        The Boston Globe’s Eileen McNamara, pro-abortion columnist who “got it”, wrote…..

        Conscience is a moral concept, as well as a religious one, after all. If you believe that life begins at conception, doesn’t your conscience compel you to vote in concert with that belief? Just as, if your conscience tells you capital punishment is state-sanctioned murder, you would vote against the death penalty? Or if you believe that gay marriage is a fundamental civil right, you would vote against a constitutional amendment to ban it?

        I, and I suspect many others who support legal abortion, had mistakenly assumed that, on this very personal issue, Kerry’s conscience was at odds with the teaching of his church. His consistent record in favor of abortion rights, family planning, and reproductive freedom was, I thought, a courageous reflection of an independent mind.

        Now, I don’t know what to think. I cannot respectfully disagree with him as I do with an abortion opponent whose conscience prompts her to work to unseat lawmakers like Kerry. I understand her. She is acting on principle, lobbying to change laws antithetical to her conscience. I don’t understand him, voting consistently in opposition to what he now tells us is one of his core beliefs.

        My view exactly.

        • That’s a case for disqualifying all religious people from government; not for allowing officials to base their legislation on their religious beliefs.

          This issue is, entertainingly, created by the 1st amendment. It protects citizen’s religious beliefs from the government. To do such, you pretty much have to keep religion out of government, but it also privileged religious belief over other beliefs.

          As a citizen, we can’t interfere with your religious beliefs, but if you’re part of government, you can’t use your religious beliefs.

    • 1) Yes, I personally think that Kerry was lying through his teeth.

      2) I couldn’t disagree more. Look: the source of beliefs is irrelevant…do you believe it or not. How can you maintain that Kerry has two sets of beliefs? I have beliefs from my upbringing,, from my parents, from experience, from people I admire, from books, from bullshit, but on any one topic, it’s just one belief. What Kerry believes he believes, and the fact that his belief on the life of a fetus comes from a source that you (and I) think is nonsense, so what? What if it’s just the Bible? Is that, as a book of philosophy, a legitimate source of beliefs and values? Sure it is. If I push legislation based on beliefs I learned from reading Confucius, I’m not imposing Confucius, I’m proposing a law based on what I believe is right. .

      • You just threw out any separation between church and state.

        A Catholic could push to outlaw abortion, birth controls pills, and condoms. Who cares if the no-condoms idea for couples has no basis in reality? Lets make it law!

        A Jew could back legislation to make it illegal to work on Saturdays. It’s his belief. That’s enough.

        A mormon could push for plural marriage. He’s not claiming there’s any positive effects or that the known negative effects aren’t there. Doesn’t matter.

        A dominionist would push for keeping women under their father’s thumb (and brother’s, husband’s, and son’s thumbs). “That’s what I believe, I’ve got 60 senators and 250 congressmen that agree with me. Deal. Supreme Court? Hey, it’s not like I need to have a reason and a Government interest. I just believe it.”

        If I push legislation based on beliefs I learned from reading Confucius, I’m not imposing Confucius, I’m proposing a law based on what I believe is right

        Same strawman, this time with equivocation. Offending statement: “based on beliefs I learned from”. If you’re reasoning is “because confucious” it’s religion. If you got the idea from confucious but you agree with it independently, it’s cool.

        Of course, if we eradicated the special credence given to religion, this wouldn’t be a problem.

        • Now you’re getting hysterical. And advocating schizophrenia. If I, as a Congressman, feel that the government should give all the homeless free apartments, and feel that my conviction comes from my Christian upbringing, I can’t sponsor the bill, but if I get the idea from Karl Marx, it’s OK? Is being motivated by the Golden Rule unconstitutional? This is silly.

          • “and feel that my conviction comes from” and “and feel that my conviction comes from”

            It doesn’t matter where you get the idea from. What matters is why you believe the idea: befaith or bereason.

            • In this matter, “why” and “where” are of equal irrelevance. People believe sensible things for stupid reasons, and ridiculous things for good reasons. If I believe that muder is wrong because God says so, then I can’t ethically advance an anti-murder statute in my elected capacity, but if I believe it because anthropological studies show clearly that it disrupts society and causes long-term harm to the populace, then I can? Really?

              • Yup, that’s a feature of the constitution. Of course, government officials can always be unethical and say it’s the antropological studies that enlighten their opinion when it is really God.

                • That really isn’t what the Constitution says, you know. Not establishing a particular religion is not remotely the same as not being influenced by religion. I am 100% sure that your beliefs have been directly or indirectly influenced by religion, whether you know it or not. If religion is at the root of a belief and the official doesn’t know it, does that make a difference?

                  • That really isn’t what the Constition says, you know. Not establishing a particular religion is not remotely the same as not being influenced by religion.

                    I didn’t say they were the same thing. First, but the latter often leads to the former. What did I misrepresent in the constitution (as interpreted by the courts)?

                    I am 100% sure that your beliefs have been directly or indirectly influenced by religion, whether you know it or not.

                    Oh, I know some of my ideas have been influenced by religion, but that’s neither here nor there because (1) I tend not to support positions that I can’t back up with evidence (“influenced by” is still different from “only believed because”) and (2) I’m not a government official, so it’s moot. There’s nothing unconstitutional about any of SMP’s relgious ideas (to the contrary!), but if he was a government official, he couldn’t legislate based on them.

                    If religion is at the root of a belief and the official doesn’t know it, does that make a difference?

                    For ethics? Definitely. For constitionality? Maybe, but in practice, no. The courts have a tendency to create post-hoc government rationalizations to uphold statutes. Basically, it’s unconstitutional, but essentially unactionable.

                    • Cutting to the chase, I have to resort to a phrase that I detest and have never used before—congratulations! We’ll just have to agree to disagree. I see the rationale in your argument, but it still makes no sense to me at all.

                    • I agree that it’s ridiculous, but it’s how the system is set up. I can think of two ways to simplify it, but “allowing theocracy” won’t work for me and “deprivileging religion” won’t work for the majority.

                      Having a math background helps here. The unintuitive and ridiculous have this habit of being true (see: Hyperbolic Geometry, e^(PI*i)=-1).

  2. Let us turn to the Word of God.

    1 Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD. 2 This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. 3 Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy[a] all that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”

    The violent death of the unborn is an inevitable result of following this command. And if the definition of infant includes unborn, then Saul had the duty to ensure that the babies inside the wombs were dead as well.

    Therefore, if Cain believes in abortion under no circumstances, then he is saying that God, the Lord of Lords and King of Kings issued an unethical command. But by definition, anything commanded by God is per se ethical- a contradiction. So he is wrong in saying abortion is unacceptable under any circumstances

    Now to the point. of your article. I can reword the quote from KLerry.

    I oppose blasphemy , personally. I don’t like blasphemy . I believe God’s Name is sacred and holy . . But I don’t take my Jewish beliefs, my article of faith, and legislate it on a Protestant, on a Catholic , or an atheist who doesn’t share it. We have separation of church and state in the United States of America.

    Do Jewish politicians have a duty to promote and enforce anti-blasphemy policies?

  3. Oh…this is fun!

    ”I oppose Mohammed Cartoons, personally. I don’t like Mohammed Cartoons. I believe Mohammed Cartoons are horrid and disrespectful. But I don’t take my Muslim beliefs, my article of faith, and legislate it on a Protestant, on a Jew, or an atheist who doesn’t share it. We have separation of church and state in the United States of America.”

    • I explained the difference in this Usenet post .

      Religion has influenced the political and social life in this
      country for centuries. Indeed, most American politicians follow one of
      many faiths that derive their moral traditions from the Sheva Mitzvot
      B’Nei Noach (Laws of the Sons of Noah. Certainly, they must follow
      these morals with respect to their PERSONAL lives. And yet, what about
      public policies they endorse? Based on their faith, how must they
      decide on many issues facing society? For example, the Sheva Mitzvot
      B’Nei Noach prohibits idolatry and blasphemy. And yet, the First
      Amendment PROTECTS idolatry and blasphemy. There seems to be a
      conflict between the First Commandment and the First Amendment.

      But such a conflict is not necessary. The Supreme Court stated that
      “[t]here is a basic difference between direct state interference with
      a protected activity and state encouragement of an alternative
      activity consonant with legislative policy.” Maher v. Roe, 432 U.S.
      464 at 475 (1977) Thus, while, notwithstanding the First Amendment’s
      free exercise clause, there is no duty to enact legislation criminally
      punishing idolatry, blasphemy, or sodomy, policies funding shrines to
      Zeus, Quetzacoatl, or Saint Mary would violate the Sheva Mitzvot B’Nei
      Noach, as well as the First Amendment’s free exercise clause.

  4. I think Herman is genuinely conflicted. Actually, he’s the only candidate, however conflicted, that seems genuine to me at all. That’s reason enough for me to cast my vote for him in the absence of a more qualified candidate……and there IS an abysmal absence at the present time.

  5. Jack – Your 6 option test on the ethics of abortion is brilliant. Every politician should be challenged with it. Choosing one, and perhaps modifying it some, would be infinitely more informative than the dance we are so often subjected to.

    • Thanks, and special thanks for commenting on the most substantive post I wrote all week, which has languished while readers split hairs over whether a named radio personality who gives interviews laying out the objectives of a sit-in is engaged in PR, and whether a host who has a show on a radio network is really that network’s employee. Hundreds weigh in with outrage when I impugn a Tide commercial, but try to clarify the single greatest ethics problem of our era, and most people shrug.

      I am morose.

      • While I blieve Cain had stated the only ethical position for someone who believes abortion is wrong for relgious reasons, it looks like that as an accident:

        MARTHA MACCALLUM: Do you believe that abortion should be legal in this country for families who want to make that decision [to abort]?

        CAIN: No. I do not believe abortion should be legal in this country, if that’s the question.

        MACCALLUM: So then you’re saying that if those circumstances come up and the family does make that decision, that they decide that that is the best thing for this young person or she decides that on her own, then if that’s what they decided, then it would be an illegal abortion that they would seek.

        CAIN: It would be an illegal abortion! Look, abortion should not be legal — that is clear — but if that family made a decision to break the law, that’s their decision.

            • He is, in a way, like Obama. The President never expected to win—he just thought it would be good exposure, and useful in 4 or 8 years after he was more experienced. Son of a gun, he won. I think Cain did this to launch a speaking career (he’s done that well) and never thought he would be in the race.

              The lesson: don’t run for office unless you 1) are ready and 2) are serious.

              • I think you’re wrong about that, Jack. I don’t think he was trying to launch a speaking career. He already had a pretty good one. He didn’t really want to run for President because of the hardship it would entail for both him and his family. He truly believes that the country needs him, and that he can help. I’ve been listening to the man communicate for a long time. I like him. I believe him to be an honest man. He’s very good at some things, and not so good at others. He has a great deal of useful knowledge in some areas, and is sorely lacking knowledge in others. If I measure him by the standards which I think a president should meet, he doesn’t measure up by a long shot, and you’ve correctly pointed out just a few of the reasons why, but if I measure him against the other candidates, he wins.

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