John McCain boasts one of the most consistent pro-life voting records in the Senate, but he doesn't do much boasting about it. Even during the primaries—when touting his anti-abortion credentials could have scored with his conservative critics—he mostly avoided the subject. Why? "My record is clear," McCain said, when asked by reporters earlier this year. "I am a pro-life conservative."
But several pro-choice groups are nervous that his record isn't speaking loudly enough—that, on the contrary, it's been overshadowed by his reputation as a maverick who bucks the party line. Their fears are bolstered by a new Planned Parenthood survey, conducted in 16 likely battleground states, which shows that 23 percent of McCain's female, pro-choice supporters mistakenly believe he shares their views on abortion. An additional half of the respondents said they did not know enough to describe his position. "There's an enormous education gap," says Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, lamenting that most women "have no idea what John McCain's stance is."
Pro-choice groups attribute that gap to voters who confuse McCain-the-maverick with McCain-the-moderate, based on his willingness to split from his party on certain issues. Abortion, though, isn't one of them. "The press describes him as a moderate maverick, so people take that to mean that he's pro-choice, or not as bad on choice," says Ted Miller, a spokesperson for NARAL Pro-Choice America. "But if you look at his voting record, he's nowhere near moderate." In an effort to correct such misimpressions, NARAL recently launched MeetTheRealMcCain.com and has begun buying up Google ads, like one that asks "Is McCain Pro-Choice?" and links to a NARAL site. "We can't take any knowledge for granted," says Miller, "so we're raising the questions." Planned Parenthood, meanwhile, is working on an "aggressive" educational campaign aimed at female voters in battleground states.
The National Right to Life Committee, a pro-life organization that recently endorsed McCain, says it welcomes the efforts of its rivals. "As more people learn of his desire to protect unborn children, that will help his campaign," says executive director David O'Steen. Finally, some common ground: the utility of informing voters about McCain's abortion record could be the one area where pro-life and pro-choice groups are in total agreement.