By Kathleen Gilbert

WASHINGTON, D.C., March 13, 2009 ( – The Republican National Committee’s (RNC) new chairman, Michael Steele, has drawn heavy criticism from Republicans and pro-lifers for recent statements that appeared to downplay the GOP’s strongly pro-life and pro-family platform and promote a “pro-choice” position.

Steele made the remarks in an interview with GQ magazine, in which he was asked to elaborate on his belief in the “power of life” as well as the “power of choice.” 

Steele told the magazine, “The choice issue cuts two ways. You can choose life, or you can choose abortion. You know, my mother chose life. So, you know, I think the power of the argument of choice boils down to stating a case for one or the other.”

“Are you saying you think women have the right to choose abortion?” the interviewer asked.

Steele responded, “Yeah. I mean, again, I think that’s an individual choice.”

GQ: “You do?”

Steele: “Yeah. Absolutely.”

GQ probed further, asking, “Are you saying you don’t want to overturn Roe v. Wade?”

Steele: “I think Roe v. Wade – as a legal matter, Roe v. Wade was a wrongly decided matter.”

GQ: “Okay, but if you overturn Roe v. Wade, how do women have the choice you just said they should have?”

Steele: “The states should make that choice. That’s what the choice is. The individual choice rests in the states. Let them decide.”

GQ also questioned Steele on the issue of marriage, which he said was “reserved for a man and a woman.” But Steele then added: “That’s just my view. 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. That’s why I believe that the states should have an opportunity to address that issue.”

On whether he considered homosexuality “a choice,” Steele answered: “Oh, no. I don’t think I’ve ever really subscribed to that view, that you can turn it on and off like a water tap. … You just can’t simply say, oh, like, ‘Tomorrow morning I’m gonna stop being gay.’ It’s like saying, ‘Tomorrow morning I’m gonna stop being black.’”

After the public fallout of the interview became apparent, Steele issued a statement reaffirming that he was “pro-life, always have been, and always will be.”

“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. … The Republican Party is and will continue to be the party of life,” Steele said.  “I support our platform and its call for a Human Life Amendment.”  He did not comment on his statements on homosexuality.

But the statement was not enough to assuage the concerns of countless pro-life politicians and leaders, who had placed faith in Steele as a solid and uncompromising representative of pro-life and pro-family values.

“Chairman Steele, as the leader of America’s pro-life conservative party, needs to re-read the Bible, the U.S. Constitution, and the 2008 GOP Platform.  He then needs to get to work – or get out of the way,” said former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who had competed against Steele in the RNC Chairman race in January.  Blackwell, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council, had withdrawn from the race in the final rounds to put his “fullest support” behind Steele.

Former Gov. Mike Huckabee on his blog called the Chairman’s statements “very troubling” and “a reversal of Republican policy and principle.”

Charmaine Yoest, the president and CEO of Americans United for Life Action, called Steele’s words, “language straight out of Planned Parenthood’s messaging playbook.”  “There are millions of pro-life Americans, Republican and Democrat, who are looking for leadership on the life issue and they will find Mr. Steele’s comments disturbing and demoralizing,” said Yoest

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins released a statement saying that, when he spoke to Steele on the subject, “He assured me as chairman his views did not matter and that he would be upholding and promoting the Party platform, which is very clear on these issues.

“It is very difficult to reconcile the GQ interview with the chairman’s pledge,” said Perkins. 

Some pro-life Republicans were particularly baffled as they noted Steele had in the past strongly repudiated suspicions that he was less than dedicated to the party’s pro-life platform. 

“I was a monk for goodness sakes, ok? I spent three years in a monastery,” Steele insisted in a January interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody.  “When I came out and got politically involved I was an advocate for pro-life issues. I was endorsed by National Right to Life. I don’t think they would endorse me if I were squeamish or squishy as some have called me on this issue.”

When David Brody asked for an explanation of statements Steele made in a 2006 Meet the Press interview, when he indicated he would neither support a constitutional ban on abortion nor work to overturn Roe V. Wade, Steele said he meant that Roe would remain the precedent until another case challenged it.  “It should be overturned in my personal view,” he said. 

“Michael Steele has just unmistakably proclaimed himself to be pro-choice,” said pro-life blogger Jill Stanek on the recent comments. “You thought he was ‘embattled’ last week over his Limbaugh comment? Ha. He has now stepped both feet into it.”

See related coverage:
Republican Party Elects Pro-Life, Pro-Family Michael Steele as New Chairman