Did Romney back a law to ban all abortions?

at 11:00 AM ET, 07/12/2012

“Every woman who believes decisions about our bodies and our health care should be our own is troubled Romney supports overturning Roe versus Wade. Romney backed a law that outlaws all abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.”

— Voiceover from Obama campaign ad

President Obama’s reelection team launched this video Saturday as part of a new ad campaign in Virginia and seven other battleground states. It depicts Republican challenger Mitt Romney as a candidate who opposes abortion without exception.

This is familiar territory for the presumptive GOP nominee, who has weathered plenty of abortion-related attacks in the past. Former Republican primary opponent Newt Gingrich made the opposite point of this ad, earning two Pinocchios for a video that said Romney “expanded access to abortion pills.” An antiabortion group picked up three Pinocchios for saying the former Massachusetts governor “required hospitals to provide abortions.”

Let’s take a look at Romney’s record to determine whether the Obama campaign stated things more accurately.

The Facts

Romney hasn’t done himself any favors when it comes to his stance on abortion. He has made twist after turn on this issue during the course of his political career; former Fact Checker columnist Michael Dobbs produced the definitive list of all the flip-flops back in 2007.

The Romney campaign acknowledged that “there’s no question” the GOP candidate changed his position on abortions,” most dramatically since his run for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts in 1994.” To be clear, that’s the year he attended a Planned Parenthood fundraiser and said he has supported abortion rights consistently since 1970.

Romney later promised to maintain the status quo on abortion while running for governor of Massachusetts in 2002. He basically upheld that promise, despite declaring a pro-life stance midway through his term.

During the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns, Romney repeatedly said that he is “unapologetically pro-life” but does not oppose abortion in all situations. Here’s what he wrote in an op-ed for National Review last year: “I am pro-life and believe that abortion should be limited to only instances of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.”

So how does the Obama campaign come up with the notion that Romney supported “a law that outlaws all abortion?” The answer: he didn’t. He couldn’t have, because no such law exists — something FactCheck.org pointed out in a review of this ad.

The Obama campaign defended its claim by pointing out remarks Romney made in response to an audience-member question during a 2008 GOP primary debate. The question was: “If hypothetically, Roe v. Wade was overturned, and the Congress passed a federal ban on all abortions and it came to your desk, would you sign it? Yes or no?”

Rather than giving a simple thumbs up or thumbs down, Romney said that “we should overturn Roe v. Wade and return these issues to the states.” Debate moderator Anderson Cooper pressed him to answer the question directly, asking: “Would you sign the bill?”

Here’s Romney’s response:

“I’d be delighted to sign that bill. But that’s not where we are. That’s not where America is today -- where America is ready to overturn Roe v. Wade and return to the states that authority. But if the Congress got there, we had that kind of consensus in that country -- terrific.”

Here we have Romney saying he would sign a bill — not a law — banning “all abortions” if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. His use of the words “delighted” and “terrific” suggest he might even be pining for a day when this scenario unfolds.

The Obama campaign argues that this isolated answer must represent Romney’s one true view on abortion, especially in light of the fact that he claims his position hasn’t changed since his last presidential run.

That’s preposterous. These remarks happened during a live debate, in which candidates can easily slip up or forget the exact phrasing of a question. More importantly, we can cite far more instances in which Romney said abortions should be limited to cases of rape, incest and danger to a mother’s health.

We hoped Romney could shed some light on this issue by explaining exactly where he stands on abortion at this stage of the election campaign. We pressed his campaign to answer this straightforward and specific question: Did his affirmative answer during the 2008 debate mean he would support a ban on all abortions, including in cases of rape and incest?

The campaign dodged our question, reiterating its claim that Romney’s position on abortion has not changed during the past two elections. We offered one last chance for the campaign to state precisely where its candidate stands, but the team didn’t respond.

Ironically, Romney’s flip-flopping makes him vulnerable to attacks from all sides on this issue. An antiabortion group released an ad during the GOP primary saying he enforced a law requiring Catholic hospitals to provide abortions in cases of rape. We awarded three Pinocchios for that claim.

For what it’s worth, the group was referring to emergency contraceptive pills rather than surgical abortions. We should note that many social conservatives say this drug induces abortion, even though the vast majority of medical experts disagree. In the end, it’s a matter of whether you believe conception starts with the embryo or the fetus.

Romney vetoed the proposed hospital requirement, but the Massachusetts legislature overturned that move.

A new debate then arose over whether Catholic hospitals should have to comply with the law. Romney went back and forth on this issue, but he ultimately decided that the mandate should apply to religious and secular institutions, based on advice from his legal counsel — even though the state health department had determined it wasn’t necessary.

To review, Romney decided the policy should apply equally to all hospitals when the measure became law despite his attempts to kill it.

Obama campaign spokeswoman Kara Carscaden had this to say about Romney’s record on abortion: “Women should be troubled by Mitt Romney’s position on the issues that affect their lives. Romney said he’d defund Planned Parenthood and wants to repeal Obamacare which gives millions of American women access to the preventative care they need. And when asked if he’d support a law that banned all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest, Romney said he’d be ‘delighted to sign’ it.  That’s not a record American women should feel confident about supporting.”

The Pinocchio Test

Romney claims he has been perfectly consistent with his stance on abortion in cases of rape and incest. But he made comments during a 2008 debate that suggest otherwise. Perhaps his remarks represent a mere slip-up, but we don’t really know. The campaign ignored our requests to clarify, and we’re not going to assume for Romney’s sake that he made a mistake.

Still, the Obama ad said Romney “backed a law that outlaws all abortion,” and we have to account for the fact that no such law exists. Beyond that, Romney has said time and again that he supports exceptions for victims of rape and incest. And the former governor has shown near perfect consistency on this issue, with one notable exception in 2008.

The president’s campaign earns two Pinocchios for its abortion video. The ad might have been even less credible if Romney’s team had cleared up the confusion about his 2008 debate response, but maybe the GOP candidate prefers ambiguity.

Two Pinocchios

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    About the Blogger

    Glenn Kessler has covered foreign policy, economic policy, the White House, Congress, politics, airline safety and Wall Street.

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