WASHINGTON -- A ballot initiative in Mississippi that would define a fertilized egg as a legal person has led to a rare divide among Republican presidential candidates on topics of abortion policy.
On Sunday, former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman, who has generally stuck to an anti-abortion platform during this campaign, became the first presidential candidate to publicly say that he opposed the so-called personhood amendment.
"I think it goes too far," Huntsman said on NBC's "Meet The Press." "I mean, I'm pro-life and always have been. I have two little adopted girls to prove the point. But I think life begins at conception. And I, you know, have certain caveats or exclusions in the case of rape, incest, and life of the mother. But I've, I've always been--I've always been pro life and proud of my record."
Huntsman's answer was a bit vague, in that he emphasized his pro-life bonafides while warning that the legislation, which has become somewhat of a bellwether issue among abortion foes across the country, was beyond his support. But an aide explained that one of his concerns was that the amendment does not allow for exclusions and exceptions.
Exclusions and exceptions were, of course, what tripped up Herman Cain several weeks ago when he gave a series of conflicting remarks about abortion policy. The former Godfather's Pizza CEO subsequently asserted his opposition to abortion in all forms, but he did so in such an inelegant way that it only invited further attack.
Rather than face the same conundrum, other presidential candidates have simply chosen to appear as staunchly pro-life as possible. And over the past few weeks, that has involved either backing the personhood amendment in Mississippi or leaving the impression that you're okay with it. Appearing on Mike Huckabee's radio program, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney -- who used to speak in support of Roe v. Wade -- said he would "absolutely" have signed legislation while governor saying that life begins at conception.
Democrats quickly attacked Romney for backing an initiative that, as DNC Executive Director Patrick Gaspard pointed out, "would ban IUDs, the morning-after pill, in-vitro fertilization, and all abortions — with no exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest or in cases where the life of a woman is at stake."
Though Romney hasn't backed off the position -- even while having written, during this campaign, that he "believe[s] that abortion should be limited to only instances of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother," it's easy to see how Huntsman's concerns with personhood could play into subsequent attacks.
UPDATE: Romney campaign spokesperson Andrea Saul emailed the following response to DNC attacks against the Massachusetts Republican: “It's too bad this White House isn't as focused on attacking unemployment as they are in attacking our campaign.”
While an earlier version of this article inferred that Romney supported the Mississippi initiative (he was responding generally to the idea of defining life at conception), Saul did not answer a request to detail her boss's position on that specific personhood proposal.