ABC News’ David Kerley and Jordyn Phelps report:
Despite the fact that the number one campaign issue on voters’ minds is jobs, contending Republican presidential candidates have spent much of the last week talking about abortion.
The sparring among the Republican candidates over the issue began after Herman Cain told CNN’s Piers Morgan Wednesday that while he is personally against abortion, the decision should ultimately lie with the family facing the choice — not the government.
“It ultimately gets down to a choice that the family or that mother has to make,” Cain told Morgan. “Not me as president, not some politician, not a bureaucrat. It gets down to that family. And whatever they decide. I shouldn’t have to tell them what decision to make for such a sensitive issue.”
Cain’s comments deviate from conservative Republican doctrine, which calls for a ban on all abortions. Cain has been leading in the polls, and the comments opened him up to a slew of attacks from competing candidates.
“It is a liberal canard to say I am personally pro-life but government should stay out of that decision,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry said Saturday night in a jab at Cain at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition Presidential Forum. “If that is your view, you are not pro-life, you are pro having your cake and eating it too.”
Cain responded to Perry’s attack, defending his anti-abortion rights stance.
“I am pro-life,” Cain said. ”I have said it I don’t know how many times. That is an attempt to try and discredit me.”
Cain is not the only candidate who is receiving criticism for his abortion stances. Perry also took aim at Mitt Romney, who supported abortion rights when he was running for governor of Massachusetts.
“Being pro-life is not a matter of campaign convenience,” Perry said to a Christian audience Saturday in Iowa.
The Iowa caucuses are critical in determining the success or failure of a candidate’s presidential contest. And Cain has been scrambling to convince this important group of voters that he is a strong supporter of pro-life principles.
Speaking at the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition Presidential Forum, Cain sought to define himself as a strong pro-life supporter in clear terms.
“I believe abortion should be clearly stated as illegal across this country,” Cain said.
Despite Cain’s attempt to clarify his stance, many of the candidates are not convinced.
“Herman Cain’s out there, and he’s in his first real run for office and a serious campaign and I think he’s still finding his way through,” Santorum said following his speech at the Iowa Faith and Freedom forum. “This is a pretty big and important race to be finding your way through issues, particularly on issues of this fundamental importance.”
He received further criticism today from Michele Bachmann, who called Cain out as a flip-flopper.
“You can’t have all of these flip-flops in our nominee,” Bachmann said on Fox News Sunday. “I think it’s giving people pause, and they’re asking real questions about, what does he believe, truly, and how would he govern as president of the United States? And I can tell you, here in Iowa, people want to make sure that our nominee is 100 percent pro-life.”
Conservative Christians have yet to rally around one particular candidate, but Cain’s recent stumble on abortion may give Romney, who has spent a lot of time and money on Iowa, the boost he is looking for among these early voters.