Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain sat down with CNN’s Piers Morgan last night, and immediately after Cain insisted that sexual orientation is a matter of choice, the discussion turned to abortion rights.

Cain, at least at first, took an uncompromising line: “I believe that life begins at conception. And abortion under no circumstances.” It didn’t appear to be a position with any wiggle room.

But then the host asked what Cain would think if he had a daughter or granddaughter who was raped and impregnated. And that’s when the candidate’s response took a strange turn.

CAIN: [I]t comes down to it’s not the government’s role or anybody else’s role to make that decision. Secondly, if you look at the statistical incidents, you’re not talking about that big a number. So what I’m saying is it ultimately gets down to a choice that that family or that mother has to make. Not me as president, not some politician, not a bureaucrat. It gets down to that family. And whatever they decide, they decide. I shouldn’t have to tell them what decision to make for such a sensitive issue.

MORGAN: By expressing the view that you expressed, you are effectively — you might be president. You can’t hide behind now the mask, if you don’t mind me saying, of being the pizza guy. You might be the president of United States of America. So your views on these things become exponentially massively more important. They become a directive to the nation.

CAIN: No they don’t. I can have an opinion on an issue without it being a directive on the nation. The government shouldn’t be trying to tell people everything to do, especially when it comes to social decisions that they need to make.

As it turns out, in American politics, there’s a category for candidates who may be personally opposed to abortion, but who wouldn’t use the power of the state to impose their opinion on the nation. They’re called “pro-choice’ candidates.

Now, as it also turns out, Cain doesn’t see it that way. As news of his on-air comments made the rounds this morning, the right began demanding an explanation. Cain tweeted, “I’m 100% pro-life. End of story.”

Except, it’s really not the end of the story, because Cain may not know what “pro-life” means. If the Republican presidential candidate doesn’t believe the government should interfere with personal decisions on “sensitive issues,” Cain may think he’s “pro-life,” but opponents of abortion rights are going to draw a very different conclusion.

If this guy hasn’t already used up his 15 minutes of fame, he’s coming very close.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.