2012 Election
Herman Cain, a 2012 candidate for the Republican Party's nomination for president of the United States, has struggled to articulate a consistent position on abortion. Reuters

Herman Cain said on Sunday that he opposed abortion under all circumstances, including in cases of rape, incest or to save the mother's life.

This position puts Cain to the right of even most anti-abortion/pro-life activists, who often oppose exceptions for rape or incest but almost invariably support an exception if a woman's life is in danger.

It is also the latest in a string of contradictory positions he has taken on abortion, which raises the question of whether he actually believes abortion should be illegal without exceptions or whether he just thinks that's what voters want to hear.

In 1998, Cain, then CEO of the National Restaurant Association, told Nation's Restaurant News that he had decided not to run for the U.S. Senate in 2000 because he thought his moderate views on abortion would alienate conservatives. Too many people in the electorate are single-issue voters, and to try and cater to the single-issue voters and the single-issue pockets out there felt like I was compromising my beliefs, he said. As an example, with the pro-life and pro-abortion debate, the most vocal people are on the ends. I am pro-life with exceptions, and people want you to be all or nothing.

On July 14, 2011, Cain had a surreally confusing exchange -- you can watch the video here -- with John Stossel of Fox Business News (emphasis added):

CAIN: I'm pro-life from conception, yes.

STOSSEL: Any cases where it should be legal?

CAIN: I don't think government should make that decision.

STOSSEL: People should be free to abort a baby?

CAIN: I support life from conception. No, people shouldn't just be free to abort because if we don't protect the sanctity of life from conception, we will also start to play God relative to life at the end of life.

STOSSEL: So I'm confused on what your position is.

CAIN: My position is I'm pro-life, period.

STOSSEL: If a woman is raped, she should not be allowed to end the pregnancy?

CAIN: That's her choice. That is not government's choice. I support life from conception.

STOSSEL: So abortion should be legal?

CAIN: No, abortion should not be legal. I believe in the sanctity of life.

STOSSEL: I'm not getting it. I'm not understanding it. If it's her choice, that means it's legal.

CAIN: No. I don't believe a woman should have an abortion. Does that help to clear it up?

STOSSEL: Even if she is raped?

CAIN: Even if she is raped or the victim of incest, because there are other options. We must protect the sanctity of life, and I have always believed that. Real clear.

On Oct. 16, 2011, Cain said on MSNBC's Meet the Press in response to a question about exceptions to abortion bans, I believe in life from conception and I do not agree with abortion under any circumstances. Not for rape and incest, because if you look at rape and incest, the percentage of those instances is so miniscule that there are other options. If it's the life of the mother, that family is going to have to make that decision.

On Oct. 19, 2011, in an interview with CNN's Piers Morgan, Cain said, I believe that life begins at conception and abortion -- under no circumstances. But just a few minutes later, when asked if abortion could be legal under some circumstances, like rape or incest, he said, 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. ... The government shouldn't be trying to tell people everything to do, especially when it comes to social decisions that they need to make.

On Oct. 20, 2011, in response to criticism of his remarks on CNN, Cain released a statement claiming that CNN had taken his words out of context, and that he had only been referring to the role of the president -- even though he had actually clearly referred to politicians, bureaucrats and government, not just to the president. In his new statement, he called himself 100 percent pro-life and promised to appoint judges who understand the original intent of the Constitution. Judges who are committed to the rule of law know that the Constitution contains no right to take the life of unborn children.

Oct. 30, 2011: On Sunday, Cain said on CBS's Face the Nation that he was pro-life from conception, period. When interviewer Bob Schieffer asked whether that meant he opposed abortion even in cases of rape, incest or threat to the mother's life, Cain said, Correct. That's my position. He even added, If people look at many speeches that I have given over the years, that has and will still be my position -- yet another example of presidential candidates' inexplicable willingness to deny past statements that are easily found online. (Michele Bachmann, too, recently called abortion a state issue and then denied saying it.)

So to recap, here are the positions Cain has taken on abortion:

1. Abortion should be illegal, but with exceptions.

2. Abortion should be illegal, but if a woman is raped, it's her decision. But it should be illegal. But it's not the government's decision.

3. Abortion should be illegal even in cases of rape or incest, but if the mother's life is in danger, it's the family's decision.

4. It's not the government's job to say whether abortion should be legal or not.

5. I am 100 percent pro-life, and Roe v. Wade should be overturned.

6. Abortion should be illegal under all circumstances, with no exceptions for rape, incest or the mother's life, and that's what I've always said.

The only coherent philosophy that reconciles all of these statements is this: I personally oppose abortion under all circumstances, even in cases of rape, incest or if the mother's life is in danger, but as president, I would not impose those beliefs on anyone.

But that is a cop-out, as Cain's critics have rightly noted, because it falsely implies that anyone personally supports abortion. Roe v. Wade was about privacy, and the pro-choice movement is about letting women make their own decisions -- not about abortion being desirable.

Herman Cain needs to understand that literally every politician in America will tell you that, personally, they are 100 percent pro-life, Leon Wolf wrote on RedState.com. That doesn't matter a bit. What matters are your beliefs about whether and in what circumstances abortion should be legal. And this is a question that Herman Cain either cannot answer coherently, or is intentionally dissembling about.

Pro-choicers believe that it should be up to each individual woman to decide whether to have an abortion and under what circumstances.

Pro-lifers believe that abortion is fundamentally wrong and that women should not have it as an option.

Cain cannot seem to decide which he is -- and the further he gets into his campaign, the more his statements seem to be based on what he thinks people want to hear.

He was very much right when he said, back in 1998, that voters want you to be all or nothing on the abortion issue. But what happened to the Cain who refused to take those all-or-nothing stances just for political gain?