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Antiabortion Super PAC stretches truth in anti-Mitt Romney ad

at 10:00 AM ET, 02/29/2012

Mitt Romney says he’s pro-life, but actions speak louder than words. As governor of Massachusetts, he enforced a law which required Catholic hospitals to provide abortions. He personally appointed a notoriously pro-abortion judge. He created a government-run healthcare system, using taxpayer dollars to fund abortions.” — Ad from the group Pro-Life Super PAC, released Feb. 24, 2012

We’ve addressed similar ads and comments accusing Mitt Romney of being a disingenuous antiabortion candidate because of his policies while serving as governor of Massachusetts. Now we have a antiabortion super PAC drawing essentially the same conclusion based on nearly identical claims.

For this ad, we’ll review the facts again and take a look at the notion that Romney created a government-run health care system for the Bay State, even though we tackled that issue in a previous column.

The Facts

Earlier this month, we awarded two Pinocchios to Gingrich and Santorum for insisting that Romney forced hospitals to provide emergency contraception — or “abortion pills,” as Gingrich called them — to rape victims.

We also determined in January that Gingrich deserved two Pinocchios for saying Romney had been a pro-abortion governor. Gingrich said the former governor had appointed a pro-abortion judge, expanded access to “abortion pills,” and put a Planned Parenthood representative on a state medical board while failing to add a antiabortion member to the same panel.

In short, we determined that Gingrich and Santorum had stretched the truth with their ads and comments, even though Romney’s rhetoric on antiabortion issues had proven to be inconsistent in Massachusetts — his policies, however, maintained the status quo, as he promised they would.

One of the primary flaws in the former speaker’s argument was his claim about “abortion pills.” The Pro-Life Super PAC also alludes to this claim when it says Romney “enforced a law which required Catholic hospitals to provide abortions.”

What really happened is that Romney vetoed a bill that would require hospitals to make emergency contraception available to rape victims — which is perfectly in line with what antiabortion groups wanted him to do. The state’s Democratic legislature then overturned the veto, and a new issue popped up: Should Catholic hospitals be exempt? Romney ultimately said the law should apply equally to religious institutions, based on advice from his legal counsel. (His health department had determined the opposite.)

Does the law require Catholic hospitals to provide abortions? That depends on your definition of conception. Some say it happens at the moment of fertilization, while others — including many in the medical community — claim it occurs when a fertilized egg implants itself in the uterine wall and begins developing from embryo to fetus.

Emergency contraception, also known as the morning-after pill and Plan B, prevents the egg from becoming fertilized, much like birth control. There are questions about whether it can also stop a fertilized egg from implanting in the womb — the maker of Plan B acknowledges only that it “may inhibit implantation.” (UPDATE: The New York Times reported in June, 2012, that a review of studies has found no evidence that fertilized eggs are affected by the pill.)

We’ll let readers decide whether inhibiting implantation constitutes abortion, but the Pro-Life Super PAC says it does. “There’s no debate,” said group spokesman Jason Jones. “Fertilization is the moment you have a unique human being.”

To be clear, the term “abortion pill” generally refers to RU-486, which induces the abortion of a fertilized and implanted egg, rather than merely preventing egg fertilization or stopping a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterine wall.

For what it’s worth, GOP candidate Ron Paul, who practiced medicine as an OB/GYN and describes himself as antiabortion, said during the Feb. 22 CNN debate that emergency contraception is hormonally the same as birth control. “If you’re going to legalize birth control pills, you really — you can’t separate the two,” he said.

Suffice it to say that the super PAC relies on a highly debatable definition of conception to conclude that Catholic hospitals have to “provide abortions” under Massachusetts law. The group also failed to mention that the emergency-contraception rule only applies to rape victims, leaving viewers to assume that Catholic hospitals are forced to perform abortions — including surgical abortions — for women who walk in asking for them.

As for the issue of whether Romney appointed a pro-abortion judge, we noted in our previously mentioned January column that the former governor confirmed such a judge. Romney aides have said the judgeship was at a district level, meaning it rarely dealt with constitutional matters.

In terms of the notion that Romney created a government-run medical system in Massachusetts, we determined in a previous column that the state’s health care system is still a decidedly free-market plan, considering that 81 percent of Massachusetts residents still use unsubsidized private insurance and that the reforms didn’t include price controls. The system program does not constitute socialized medicine, even if it tries to ensure coverage for all Bay State residents.

Does Massachusetts use taxpayer money to fund abortions? The answer is yes, at least for residents who rely on state subsidized care. But Romney didn’t create that policy. It pre-dates his reform law, which didn’t even mention the word “abortion.” Our colleagues at PolitiFact have made this point in the past.

Still, Jones claims that state-funded abortions were bound to increase with the reforms in place, since the new system raised the threshold for receiving subsidized and partially subsidized health care.

“Romney should have understood that what he did would lead to an expansion of state-funded abortions,” Jones said. “It’s not like his head was in the sand and this was news to him.”

The Pinocchio Test

The Pro-Life Super PAC asserts that Massachusetts requires Catholic hospitals to provide abortions, but its argument relies on a debatable definition of conception and a questionable assumption about how emergency contraception works. Regardless of whether viewers think the morning-after pill qualifies as an abortifacient, the ad doesn’t mention the drug. Instead, it uses vague language that could leave a reasonable person to believe the state requires religious health clinics to provide surgical abortions.

The super PAC group accurately tagged Romney for supporting a pro-abortion judge, but it discredited itself by saying he created a government-run health care system that funds abortion — the state was funding abortions before he became governor.

On balance, the Super PAC earns three Pinocchios for an ad that features mostly questionable claims. We’ve covered similar truth-stretching on this issue in the past, and we’ll never grow tired of debunking it.

Three 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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