Steele Hammered by Republicans for 'Choice' Slip

A day after a magazine quoted him as saying abortion was "an individual choice," GOP Chairman Michael Steele may soon be toast.

A leading conservative called Steele's remarks in the magazine "cavalier and flippant," underscoring the new chairman's precarious position with party regulars concerned about his off-the-cuff style and penchant for miscues.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee called the remarks "very troubling" and said in a blog posting, "despite his clarification today the party stands to lose many of its members and a great deal of its support in the trenches of grass-roots politics. For Chairman Steele to even infer that taking a life is totally left up to the individual is not only a reversal of Republican policy and principle, but it's a violation of the most basic of human rights -- the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

Steele, who was adopted, told GQ magazine that his mother had the option of getting an abortion or giving birth to him.

"The choice issue cuts two ways," Steele said in the wide-ranging interview published online Wednesday. "You can choose life, or you can choose abortion. You know, my mother chose life."

Asked whether he thought women had the right to choose abortion, Steele said: "Yeah. I mean, again, I think that's an individual choice."

Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat who is chairman of the National Governors Association, said  Thursday, "Do [Republicans] want a chairman who is basically pro-choice? Not on your life. They won't permit it."

"Michael Steele's days are numbered," Rendell said. "Fortunately for us, his days are numbered."

Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who supported Steele's bid for chairman, responded to the interview by saying: "Chairman Steele needs to reread the Bible, the U.S. Constitution and the 2008 GOP Platform. He then needs to get to work -- or get out of the way."

On Thursday morning, Steele attempted to clarify his remarks in a statement.

"I am pro-life, always have been, always will be," he said. "I tried to present why I am pro-life while recognizing that my mother had a 'choice' before deciding to put me up for adoption."

Both in the interview and in his statement, Steele said he believed Roe v. Wade was "wrongly decided." He said the Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion should be overturned and the decision left to the states.

In Portland for two fundraising events later Thursday, Steele said he was reflecting the state of law when he agreed with a magazine interviewer's statement that "women have the right to choose abortion."

Conservative Ed Morrissey weighed-in on web site Hot Air, saying, "One thing is certain: [Steele's] a lot less media savvy than most of us thought. And since he doesn't seem to have much skill in organization, we have to ask ourselves why we should support his continued tenure as RNC chair."

In the GQ interview, Steele said he was opposed to gay marriage but wasn't going to "beat people upside the head about it."

Steele, a Catholic and former Maryland lieutenant governor, was elected chairman of the National Republican Committee nearly six weeks ago.

Since then, Steele has compared Republicans to alcoholics on a 12-step program and called Rush Limbaugh "incendiary and ugly," though he has apologized to the conservative radio host.

Steele has also promised to give the party a "hip-hop makeover" that would be "off the hook" and would attract even "one-armed midgets."

Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council, said in a written statement that he was disappointed with Steele's remarks to the magazine on abortion and gay marriage.

"This only serves to reinforce the belief by many social conservatives that one major party is unfriendly while the other gives only lip service to core moral issues," Perkins said, "which is why many have dropped their affiliation with the GOP."

The Republican platform asserts the GOP's opposition to abortion, saying that "the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed."

In his statement, Steele said he supports the platform. "The Republican Party is and will continue to be the party of life," he said.

Steele said in the magazine interview that he believed marriage should be reserved for a man and a woman. "I just draw the line at the gay marriage," he said.

"And I'm not gonna jump up and down and beat people upside the head about it, and tell gays that they're wrong for wanting to aspire to that, and all of that craziness," he continued.
Steele said states should address gay marriage.

"Just as a general principle, I don't like mucking around with the Constitution," he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.