Washington -- February 2000 -- Republican presidential candidate Alan Keyes blasted rival John McCain on the abortion issue Monday, saying that anyone who votes for the Arizona senator "betrays" the pro-life position.
"John McCain is not pro life," said Keyes, who's criticized McCain's abortion position in the past. "Anyone who votes for John McCain betrays the pro-life proponents."
Keyes took a break from his South Carolina Republican primary campaign Monday to tell reporters at a Washington, DC news conference that he's not buying McCain's position on abortion.
The former ambassador referred to an earlier, theoretical question in which McCain was asked how he would respond to the question of whether a daughter of his should have an abortion. McCain did not say that he would tell his daughter to carry the baby to term.
"If he's going to give a pro-abortion, pro-choice answer to his daughter, he has given that answer to the rest of the country," said Keyes, who spoke at the National Press Club with no notes and no prepared text.
"In his heart, John McCain is not pro-life. I can hear what he says to his children, and unless he is some kind of unnatural parent, what we say to our children reflects the deep seated conviction in our heart," said Keyes.
McCain has twice voted to override President Bill Clinton's veto of a bill that would have ended partial birth abortions. He also voted in favor of a law that would have prevented family planning clinics that receive federal funding from counseling women on abortion. However he has come under criticism for votes for fetal tissue research, failing to vote on a crucial pro-Roe v. Wade amendment, and being the major backer of a bill that would stifle pro-life organizations' participation in lobbying and elections
Keyes said he will not support rival John McCain if McCain won the party's nomination because he is ``not pro-life.'' Keyes also said he could not continue to support a GOP that nominates a candidate who favors abortion rights. ``It will leave me,'' Keyes said of the party. ``I will not leave it.''
Meanwhile, others voiced similar concerns as Keyes.
Wayne Cockfield drove 70 minutes to watch the Republican debate Jan.7 because he thinks the next president wil determine whether pro-life advocates win or lose the abortion debate.
"This is the most important election we have had in the pro-life movement.If we elect another pro-abortion president,we will be back where we were in 1973,"said Cockfield,a disabled Vietnam veteran who lectures on euthanasia.
But Cockfield is worried about U.S. Sen.John McCain of Arizona."I would have loved to have asked McCain, 'Do you stand by that statement you made that abortion is necessary?"said Cockfield.
Cockfield was referring to comments made last summer by McCain to reporters in California."I'd love to see a point where it is irrelevant,and could be repealed because abortion is no longer necessary,"McCain told The San Francisco Chronicle Aug.19. "But certainly in the short term, or even the long term, I would not support repeal of Roe v. Wade."
"There has never been a need to kill babies,"said Cockfield."I think McCain's talk of abortion being necessary has hurt him in South Carolina."
McCain's campaign has begun running ads touting his pro-life credentials. In the ads, pro-life Rep. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) states that McCain is "pro-life." "He stood up for families with a 17-year pro-life voting record,"said Graham.
The ads were "obviously"intended to court the heavy pro-life constituency,according to Paul Gigot, Washingston bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal. "You remember Lindsey Graham from the impeachment?He's the most popular Republican in South Carolina,"said Gigot.
Yet Gigot said he thinks McCain remains vulnerable in his ability to win back the trust of pro-lifers. "He'll get some pro-life votes. I don't know whether he gets enough."
The campaign said the ads are intended to build name recognition and convince South Carolina voters that McCain is pro-life. "Our challenge over the next month is to become better known in South Carolina," McCain campaign spokeman Howard Opinsky added. "When people learn about his ... solid pro-life record,the more they like John McCain."
"He spoke five times about not overturning Roe,"said David O'Steen, Executive Director of National Right to Life. "It was a consistent line for a period of time. This wasn't just misspoken one time."
Campaign spokeman Opinsky said that McCain's comments were taken out of context and that voters ought to look at the senator's votes on abortion."There should be no confusion," Opinsky said. "He has a 17-year voting record. He talks about it on the campaign trail. The record is very clear."
O'Steen said that McCain has failed to recant his previous statements. "He never said, 'I was tongue-tied. Of course, I support overturning Roe v.Wade.' We heard from the campaign the he misspoke,but we have not heard it from him,"said O'Steen.
Gigot followed McCain while he was campaigning in South Carolina and said he has since clarified his position. But that doesn't reassure South Crolina voters like Wayne Cockfield. "I don't think his two-face on abortion is going to work in South Carolina,"Cockfield said. "He can say, 'Look at my pro-life voting record.' So can Vice President Gore and Rep. Richard Gephardt. But when they got presidential aspirations,they changed."
Holly Gatling,executive director of South Carolina Citizens for Life, told the Register that McCain will ultimately not win over enough pro-life support to carry the state.
"Exit polls show up to 25% of the people who vote in the Republican primary will vote on the basis of the pro-family and pro-life issues,"said Gatling. "That's why I do expect Gov. Bush to win. But I don't expect it to be a cakewalk."
For Gatling, McCain's views on campaign finance reform also disprove his claim to being pro-life. She said that his campaign finance reform bill would restrict the ability of grass-roots organizations to air advertising about candidates and their positons 60 days before an election.
"The whole purpose of campaign finance reform is to target pro-life groups,to shut us up and close us down,"said Gatling.
She said these ads, often lambasted because they come from so-called special interests groups, are the only means that pro-lifers have to educate the public about the stances of candidates running for office.
"We will try to explain the nuts and bolts of the dangers of campaign finance reform" to the voters in South Carolina, Gatling said. "If you cannot mention the name of a candidate unless you register as a political committee, then 60 days before an election, Congress can do whatever they want."
Opinsky said that McCain's bill focuses primarily on banning "soft money"from special interests and that the offending parts are removed from it.
Gatling remained unconvinced,saying the change to the bill was not permanent and that its real motivation is to stop dissent. "John said, 'If I could, constitionally, I would ban negative ads.' His position is to stop criticism of him. The name of the bill should be the Free Speech Restriction Act. This is the Anti-Criticism Bill."
O'Steen agreed that pro-lifers in South Carolina will ultimately reject McCain.
"I think he'll lose. It's a pro-life state.Gov.Bush has a better pro-life stance. McCain's proposals will not do well in South Carolina,"said O'Steen