Republicans presidential candidates clashed Saturday over whether pro-life candidates should allow women who are victims of rape or incest to have the option of abortion, a position that has traditionally been adopted by the party's nominees.
On one side, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio broke with party orthodoxy and said he hoped to ban abortion as an option even in cases of rape and incest. "If I'm president and there's a bill that's passed that saves lives but it has exceptions, I'll sign it," Rubio said. "But I do believe deeply that all human life is worthy of the protection of laws. I've already said, for me, the issue of life is not a political issue and I want to be frank. I would rather lose an election than be wrong on the issue of life."
On the other side, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie said Rubio's position was wrong as both a matter of policy and politics. "I think we have to be cognizant of the fact there's a lot of people that are concerned about having a pro-life position without any exceptions," said Bush.
Christie was even more forceful. "I believe that if a woman has been raped, that is a birth and a pregnancy that she should be able to terminate. If she is the victim of incest, this is not a woman's choice. This is a woman being violated. And the fact is that we have always has believed, as has Ronald Reagan, that we have self-defense for women who have been raped and impregnated because of it, or the subject of incest and been impregnated for it," he said. "That woman should not have to deliver that child if they believe that violation is now an act of self-defense by terminating that pregnancy."
In both the 2008 and 2012 general elections, Democrats attempted to raise doubts about whether the Republican nominees, John McCain and Mitt Romney, supported exceptions for rape and incest. McCain and Romney both supported exceptions for rape and incest.
Rubio was asked to address what moderators called the the most pressing social issues among millennial voters—marriage equality and reproductive rights. On the former, Rubio stood by his long held belief that marriage is between a man and a woman. And on the issue of reproductive rights, Rubio defended his pro-life position, which he said should not be a political issue, but a human rights one. "On the one hand is the right of a woman to choose what to do with her body--which is a real right--and on the other hand is the right of an unborn human child to live," Rubio said. "As a lawmaker I must choose which one of these two sides takes precedence and I have chosen to err on the side of life."
Rubio also attacked the media for not pressing Democratic candidates on the issue of abortion during the past five debates. "On abortion, the Democrats are extremists," Rubio said. "Why doesn't the media ask Hillary Clinton why she believes that all abortions should be legal?"
Rubio said Saturday he does believe in exceptions to abortion when the life of the mother is in danger.