“Trying to mislead us? That’s wrong. But banning all abortions? Only if you vote for him.”

— Narration from Barack Obama campaign ad, referring to GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney engaged in an ad war last week with President Obama, with both sides trying to define the GOP challenger’s stance on abortion. The exchange was no surprise considering that recent polls show Romney closing the gap among women. A USA Today/Gallup poll last week had the Republican virtually tied with his opponent among female likely voters.

Romney’s ad features a woman concluding that, contrary to what the Obama campaign has said, the GOP candidate doesn’t oppose contraceptives or abortion in cases of rape and incest. The president’s team shot back with an ad that shows Romney saying during a 2007 Republican primary debate that he would be “delighted” to sign a bill banning all abortions.

Romney’s abortion positions involved some well-documented twists and turns over the years, but we wondered how accurately the Obama ad depicts his current stance. Let’s take a look at the GOP candidate’s record and examine the full context of his 2007 debate comments.

The Facts

Former Fact Checker columnist Michael Dobbs created a detailed list back in 2007 that details Mitt Romney’s flip-flops on the abortion issue. There is no doubt that the Republican’s stance has evolved.

In terms of Romney supporting a ban on all abortions, we covered this issue in a previous column, noting that the candidate currently supports exceptions for victims of rape and incest, and that “the former governor has shown near perfect consistency on this issue, with one notable exception [the 2007 debate comment].”

Romney’s campaign acknowledged for our previous column that the Republican candidate has unquestionably changed his position on abortion since running for U.S. Senate in 1994 — the year he said during a Planned Parenthood fundraiser that he supported abortion rights, and that he had felt that way since 1970.

Romney basically stuck to that position while running for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, promising to uphold the status quo on abortion rights. He lived up to that promise but also declared an antiabortion stance midway through his term. Critics have suggested he was eyeing a presidential run at the time.

Romney has said time and again during his 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns that he is “unapologetically pro-life” but does not oppose abortions in instances of rape and incest or when the procedure is necessary to protect the life of a mother. This is the same position he proclaims to this day and which his campaign reiterated in its ad last week.

Many conservatives, former GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and an antiabortion group questioned Romney’s conviction on this issue during the Republican primaries. During one 2007 debate, an audience member submitted a question asking the former governor: “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?”

Note that this hypothetical scenario involves an unlikely set of circumstances: Either the U.S. Supreme Court has to overturn its previous decision in Roe v. Wade or a majority of the House and Senate would need to reach an agreement on amending the Constitution, followed by both chambers of Congress approving a law to ban all abortions.

Romney sidestepped the “yes or no” part of the debate question by saying, “We should overturn Roe v. Wade and return these issues to the states.” But debate moderator Anderson Cooper pressed the GOP candidate to answer more directly, asking: “Would you sign the bill?”

Here’s Romney’s full 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.”

The Obama ad suggested that this isolated answer represents Romney’s one true and current view on abortion. But there are several reasons why this doesn’t make sense.

First, the ad ignores Romney’s official position, which is that abortion should be legal in instances of rape, incest and when it’s necessary to protect a woman’s life.

Second, Romney noted that the nation is not ready to repeal Roe v. Wade. As such, he was talking about an alternate reality. His response suggests he longs for a day when the American conscience shifts toward his “unapologetically pro-life” stance, but not that he will make an effort to upend the status quo.

The Pinocchio Test

Obama’s campaign pulled out the same cropped video clip it used for an older ad claiming that “Romney backed a law that outlaws all abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.” The problem, both in that case and in this one, is that the GOP candidate has said time and again while running for president that abortions should be legal in cases of rape, incest, and when the procedure is necessary to protect a woman’s life.

Furthermore, the circumstances required to outlaw all abortions during a Romney administration have almost no chance of occurring. It would require first for the Supreme Court to reverse Roe v. Wade and then a majority in both chambers in Congress (including a filibuster-proof 60 votes in the Senate) to pass a law that a president could sign. An even bigger stretch would be a legislation authorizing a constitutional amendment, which first requires two-thirds majority in each chamber, and then would need to be ratified by three-quarters of the states.

Romney has all but invited critics to mischaracterize his abortion stance with nuanced and even shifting abortion positions in past elections. But that doesn’t negate the Republican’s official stance for 2012. The president’s campaign earns Three Pinocchios for its second offense with this clipped footage.

Three Pinocchios

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