John McCain is both a presidential candidate and the father of a 15-year-old daughter and that combination put him in an uncomfortable position today.
As his campaign bus rolled through the snowy New Hampshire landscape this morning, the Arizona senator, an opponent of abortion in most cases, was asked the kind of question that casts the issue in highly personal terms: What would he do if his daughter, Meghan, told him she was pregnant and did not want the baby?
"It would be a private decision that we would share within the family and not with anyone else," McCain replied. "I would discuss this issue with [wife] Cindy and Meghan and this would be a private decision. Obviously, I would encourage her to know that the baby would be brought up in a warm and loving family. The final decision would be made by Meghan with our advice and counsel."
As reporters continued to press him, McCain appeared annoyed. "I'm not going to talk about what I'm going to do with my daughter in the most personal and painful kind of situation that I can imagine outside of terminal illness," he said.
That, however, was not the end of it. Shortly after arriving here, McCain telephoned an aide in a hotel lobby to clarify his position. The aide's cellular telephone was handed to a reporter and McCain said that he had misspoken on the bus when he suggested that a decision to have an abortion would rest with his daughter.
"What I believed I was saying and what I intended to say is that this is a family decision," he said. "The family decision will be made by the family, not by Meghan. Other than that, I believe that it is a private family matter. I'm sorry if there was any confusion."
At the GOP debate last night, McCain tersely rebuffed candidate Alan Keyes when he said McCain's comments "displayed a profound lack of understanding of the basic issue of principle involved in abortion." McCain said his Senate record demonstrated his opposition, adding, "I will not draw my children into this discussion."
Later in the debate, McCain returned to the subject, telling Keyes: "I've seen enough killing in my life. I know how precious human life is. And I don't need a lecture from you."
McCain, whose quest for the Republican presidential nomination is being opposed by some antiabortion groups, is attempting to walk a delicate line on the explosive issue. He consistently refers to himself as "pro-life" and reiterated today his support for laws requiring parents to be notified and to give their consent before a minor could have an abortion. But earlier this week, McCain also said he favored restoring language to the Republican Party's platform that would recognize cases involving rape, incest and a threat to the life of the woman as exceptions to the GOP's opposition to abortion.
When McCain re-boarded his bus following a radio interview here, the abortion conversation continued, with McCain visibly upset over the possible impact on his daughter.
"There is a place where we stop this," he said. "It is a family decision and that is a pro-life position. I'm not going to discuss rape and incest. I'm just not going to put my daughter through reading about this."
"We're going to have to move on," McCain added. "This is the last six days of the campaign. I can't elaborate more."
McCain said some antiabortion groups oppose him not because of his positions on the issue but because of his attempts to ban unlimited "soft money" political contributions. But then the conversation returned to his daughter. "I do worry, understandably, about my 15-year-old daughter," he said. "I just hope this doesn't have an impact on her. This ain't beanbag."
McCain said his wife planned to call their daughter today as well as the principal of the Catholic high school she attends in Phoenix "just to tell her it came up in the campaign" and would be the subject of news accounts.
CAPTION: In Manchester, N.H., reporters ask Sen. John McCain about his abortion stand, following his remarks about how he would respond if his 15-year-old daughter became pregnant and did not want a baby.