Just a few months ago, Chris Matthews asked John McCain if he would consider a pro-choice running mate, such as former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge.
August 15, 2008

Just a few months ago, Chris Matthews asked John McCain if he would consider a pro-choice running mate, such as former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge. “I don’t know if [his position on the issue] would stop him, but it would be difficult,” McCain said.

McCain is saying something different now.

Republican John McCain says he has not ruled out choosing Pennsylvania’s popular former Gov. Tom Ridge as a running mate despite his support for abortion rights, a hot-button issue that could inflame some voters among the party’s conservative base.

McCain appeared to be testing the issue — weighing the benefits against the costs of picking Ridge, who could help the Arizona senator win Pennsylvania. […]

“And also I feel that — and I’m not trying to equivocate here — that Americans want us to work together,” McCain added. “You know, Tom Ridge is one of the great leaders and he happens to be pro-choice. And I don’t think that that would necessarily would rule Tom Ridge out.”

Chatting with the Weekly Standard, McCain was pressed a little further, and reminded that he told Republican primary voters that he wouldn’t consider NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg for the ticket because he’s pro-choice. McCain told the Standard that Republicans should be inclusive, and the party’s voters could find Ridge more palatable because Bloomberg “is pro-gay rights, pro, you know, a number of other issues.”

In other words, the GOP should be open to voters who support abortion rights, but not gay rights. Republicans should be tolerant, but not too tolerant.

How open minded of him.

I should add, by the way, that McCain’s remarks about considering a pro-choice running mate might lead some to believe that McCain is some kind of “moderate” on reproductive rights.

Sarah Blustain had a great item in The New Republic this week, explaining just how big a “zealot” McCain is on this issue.

During his political career, McCain has participated in 130 reproductive health-related votes on Capitol Hill; of these, he voted with the anti-abortion camp in 125. McCain has consistently backed rights for the unborn, voting to cover fetuses under the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and supporting the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which allowed a “child in utero” to be recognized as a legal victim of a crime. He has voted in favor of the global gag rule, which prevents U.S. funds from going to international family-planning clinics that use their own money to perform abortions, offer information about abortion, or take a pro-choice stand. And he has voted to appoint half a dozen anti-abortion judges to the federal bench, as well as Samuel Alito, John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, and Robert Bork to the Supreme Court. During the Bork hearings, McCain attacked the Court’s creation of a right to privacy in Roe v. Wade: “Whether one is pro-or anti-abortion,” McCain said in an October 1987 hearing, “it is difficult to argue that the Court’s opinion is not constitutionally suspect.”

Some of these votes were, politically speaking, no-brainers for anyone vaguely in the pro-life camp. But McCain also joined efforts supported only by the radical wing of his party. He voted, for instance, with only one-fifth of the Senate to remove family-planning grants from a 1988 spending bill and with only 18 senators that same year against allowing Medicaid to pay for abortions in cases of rape or incest.

In 1994, the year after abortion provider David Gunn was killed outside a Florida clinic, McCain voted with 29 members of the Senate against establishing penalties for violent or threatening interference outside abortion clinics. Many solidly pro-life Republicans–Mitch McConnell, Kit Bond, John Danforth–voted in favor of the bill, called the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE). “We tried to get as many co-sponsors as we could, and we postured the thing as anti-vigilante violence,” recalls Judy Appelbaum, a Washington lawyer who was counsel to Senator Edward Kennedy at the time and the lead Hill staffer on the bill. “We argued that, even if you oppose abortion, you should not condone these actions.” According to Appelbaum, law enforcement officials, newspaper editorialists, health care providers, and law-and-order politicians all supported the bill. “There were a number of very anti-choice senators who voted for FACE,” she says, “and [McCain] wasn’t one of them.” Instead, McCain joined senators like Orrin Hatch and Jesse Helms in opposition.

Conservative writer Charlotte Allen summarized McCain’s congressional career well last year in The Weekly Standard, noting, “[He] has never failed to cast his vote in favor of whatever abortion restrictions are arguably permitted under Roe v. Wade: bans against partial-birth abortion, abortions on military bases, transporting minors across state lines to obtain abortions behind their parents’ backs, and government funding for abortion both in the United States and abroad. … In addition, McCain has voted to confirm every ’strict constructionist’ judge … appointed by the various Republican presidents who have served during his tenure.” And, she added, “Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice America…consistently award him ratings of absolute zero on their scorecards.”

If your concern is for women’s rights and reproductive freedom, McCain is a nightmare. Don’t let the running-mate trial-balloon fool you.

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