"What happened after Massachusetts moderate Mitt Romney changed his position from pro-abortion to pro-life? He governed pro-abortion. Romney appointed a pro-abortion judge, expanded access to abortion pills, put Planned Parenthood on a state medical board but failed to put a pro-life group on the same board.”
— Newt Gingrich ad attacking Mitt Romney
Gingrich, still justifiably angry at a tough ad by a Romney-affiliated Super PAC that mischaracterized his position on abortion, has counterattacked with his own ad that calls into question Romney’s support for restrictions on abortion.
Romney, of course, has spoken openly about his conversion on the abortion issue, so Gingrich must prove that Romney was an inconsistent convert to the cause of fighting abortion. Romney’s record was certainly inconsistent but was it indeed “pro-abortion”? Let’s look at some of the claims in this ad.
The definitive list of Romney flip-flops on abortion was compiled in 2007 by our predecessor as The Fact Checker, the estimable Michael Dobbs. After meticulously examining Romney’s twists and turns on the issue, Dobbs awarded Romney Three Pinocchios for his comments on abortion, saying he has “changed his position so often on abortion that he lacks much credibility” to claim that every piece of legislation he signed as governor was “on the side of preserving the sanctity of life.”
Romney has dated his conversion to a Nov. 9, 2004, meeting with a Harvard University stem cell researcher, though he did not declare he was pro-life until later. (The researcher also disputes Romney’s account of the conversation.)
The ad takes advantage of this fuzzy time line by including the early 2005 confirmation of a judge who supported abortion rights, even though Romney at the time still was saying he would maintain the “status quo” on abortion rights in Massachusetts. (Romney aides also say the judgeship was at a district level, meaning it rarely dealt with constitutional issues.)
Dobbs counted at least two instances after Romney’s 2005 declaration that he was “pro-life” in which Romney made decisions that angered anti-abortion advocates. One of these included signing a bill that sought a federal waiver to expand number of low-income people eligible for family planning services, including the morning-after birth-control pill — what the ad misleadingly describes as “expanded access to abortion pills.” (The “abortion pill” is generally regarded to be RU-486, which can induce abortions, rather than prevent pregnancies.)
But, to be fair, Romney had earlier that year vetoed a bill that would have ensured emergency contraception for rape victims, in effect expanding access to the morning-after pill. His veto, which greatly angered abortion advocates, was overturned by the state legislature.
Romney’s later decision to seek the waiver angered pro-life advocates who had cheered his earlier veto and won “muted praise” from abortion-rights advocates, according to the Boston Globe at the time. The Boston Herald declared: “Romney has now executed an Olympic-caliber double flip-flop with a gold medal-performance twist-and-a-half on the issue of emergency contraception.”
The MassHealth payment policy advisory board, established as part of the Romney health-care law, did include a Planned Parenthood representative. (See Section 16M.) Pro-life groups say Romney did not object to this provision in the bill; he did not veto it either. As Dodds documented, in 1994 Romney had attended a Planned Parenthood fundraiser. But in any case, it does not appear to have been an important position.
The Pinocchio Test
Romney says he currently opposes abortion rights and would seek to curtail them.
After Romney’s shift on abortion, it is a stretch to say that he governed as a “pro-abortion” governor, especially in light of his veto of the emergency contraception bill. But as governor he was inconsistent on the issue, at least according to the standards of anti-abortion advocates, and thus has left himself open to this kind of attack.
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