Saturday night I reported on the muddle concerning the anti-abortion pledge put out by the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA) group. SBA seemed to be at pains Sunday to downplay any conflict with Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, whose refusal to sign the pledge was criticized on Saturday.

After Saturday night’s post ran, SBA spokesman Billy Valentine e-mailed me and, after a series of e-mail exchanges, claimed for the first time: “Defunding hospitals has never been considered by Congress, is not part of public debate and is not part of the pledge. Ninety-five percent of abortions are performed outside of hospitals. We made this clear to the Romney campaign.”

SBA president Marjorie Dannenfelser then e-mailed me early Sunday claiming that she had spoken with the Romney campaign to try to clarify the pledge. She denied that there was any attempt to damage Romney and stated, “Romney has been an ally of mine/ours since the last election. His not signing came after a sincere effort to clarify intent and convince him to sign.”

The Romney campaign declined further comment on the record. Although no reason was given, I can imagine that the last thing the campaign wants to do is gin up a fight with a group that’s already caused a stir. However, the points raised by Romney remain in the pledge (its overbroadness on providers and its impact on executive branch appointees). It is baffling that SBA, if it intended to qualify and limit the pledge, didn’t redraft and recirculate it. What is the point of a pledge that says one thing but is interpreted privately in an entirely different way?

I spoke to Dannenfelser by phone Sunday morning. Why did she issue a statement criticizing Romney but not Herman Cain? “No one asked about Cain,” she said. (The result, however, was that only one was the target of a pointed public statement.) But she assured me that both Cain and Romney would be the focus of grass-roots efforts to get the candidates to sign the pledge. She insisted that in conversations with Romney adviser Peter Flaherty she explained that the pledge — despite clear written language on defunding providers to the contrary — didn’t extend beyond abortion providers. In the end she said that the two sides “agreed to disagree.”

As a reminder, the Tim Pawlenty camp also thought the language meant what it said: “Advance pro-life legislation to permanently end all taxpayer funding of abortion in all domestic and international spending programs, and defund Planned Parenthood and all other contractors and recipients of federal funds with affiliates that perform or fund abortions” [emphasis added].

In e-mails both the SBA president and spokesman also talked about “relevant cabinet and executive positions” in departments such as Health and Human Services and the Justice Department, along with the National Institutes of Health. But those are examples, not qualifiers of the broad language Romney objected to. (Does that mean all Justice Department positions that may litigate on abortion issues? If it doesn’t extend to other cabinet positions, why not say so?) Confusion abounds.

Meanwhile, it appears that Rick Santorum is echoing SBA’s arguments (or SBA is echoing his).

As I said, this is one jumbo example of why these pledges should be dropped in the wastebasket rather than the candidates’ laps. What a mess.