Facebook Twitter Tumblr Close Skip to main content
A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

PAC Strains ‘Abortion’ Facts

An anti-abortion group is making the shocking claim that Mitt Romney “enforced a law which required Catholic hospitals to provide abortions.” To call this a stretch is putting it mildly. What Romney enforced — after first vetoing the legislation — was a requirement that hospitals provide rape victims with the morning-after pill, a drug that is designed to stop pregnancy from occurring if taken within a few days of unprotected intercourse. He didn’t tell Catholic hospitals that they had to perform abortions.

The group behind the ad calls itself Pro-Life Super PAC. We contacted the group’s spokesman, Jason Jones, to get more information about the group and the ad. He said the PAC was formed on Feb. 16 and that “money is pouring in and we will be committed though Super Tuesday.”

The Pro-Life Super PAC’s claim echoes a Newt Gingrich ad from January that said Romney “expanded access to abortion pills.” We called that highly misleading, explaining that the reference was to emergency contraception, known as the morning-after pill or Plan B, and not the much more controversial RU-486, known as “the abortion pill,” which induces an abortion. At least Gingrich called them “pills.” The Pro-Life Super PAC leaves the impression that Catholic hospitals in Massachusetts are performing abortion procedures, thanks to Romney. They’re not.

The group’s website includes a link to a Washington Post FactChecker item that explains exactly what Romney did and didn’t do. It took Romney to task for changing his position “so often on abortion that he lacks much credibility on this one.” It does not support the specific claim in the ad.

Here’s the background on the state’s requirement that hospitals provide emergency contraception to rape victims: In July 2005, Romney vetoed a bill requiring hospitals to provide Plan B to rape victims and for pharmacies to provide the drug over the counter. The Legislature overrode his veto. In December 2005, Romney said Catholic hospitals wouldn’t be exempt from the rule, a decision he made on the advice of his legal counsel. Romney managed to upset both pro-abortion rights and anti-abortion groups with his seemingly conflicting actions.

As for the pill itself, it has been available without a prescription across the country since 2006. It’s true that some people — and certainly Catholic hospitals — are opposed to the morning-after pill on the grounds that it could be an abortifacient (a drug that induces abortion) — though the drug does not terminate an established pregnancy. It’s essentially a high dose of the birth control pill that will delay ovulation. But the drug can also prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. It’s that possibility that prompts anti-abortion groups to object, though they don’t always take a clear stance on the drug, either. The National Right to Life Committee specifically states on its website that emergency contraception is not “the abortion pill.” We tried to get a clear statement of the group’s position on the morning-after pill, but we did not receive a response. The president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life would only call the pill “a possible abortifacient.”

Romney himself has exhibited conflicting positions on the drug. When he vetoed the legislation in question, he wrote in an op-ed in the Boston Globe: “The bill does not involve only the prevention of conception: The drug it authorizes would also terminate life after conception.” But he later said, when deciding that Catholic hospitals wouldn’t be exempt from providing the pill to rape victims: “My personal view in my heart of hearts is that people who are subject to rape should have the option of having emergency contraceptives or emergency contraceptive information.”

More evidence that even those with conservative, anti-abortion views don’t see a problem with emergency contraception: Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, a physician, who is anti-abortion, described the morning-after pill as “nothing more than a birth control pill” a few days ago at the Feb. 22 Republican presidential debate in Arizona.

Paul, Feb. 22: You know, we talk about the morning-after pill. Actually, the morning-after pill is nothing more than a birth control pill, so if birth control pills are on the market, the morning-after pill — so if you’re going to legalize birth control pills, you really — you can’t separate the two. They’re all basically the same, hormonally.

We understand that the group behind the ad may believe that emergency contraception is akin to abortion, but the ad doesn’t give voters the opportunity to make their own decisions on the facts of the matter. Instead, the ad misleads viewers into thinking Catholic hospitals were required by Romney to provide abortion procedures — when they were really required to provide an over-the-counter pill to rape victims. Nothing in Massachusetts law required Catholic hospitals to provide abortion procedures.

The ad goes on to say that Romney “personally appointed a notorious pro-abortion judge.” Gingrich has made this claim, too. It’s true that Romney nominated a Democrat who once campaigned as a “pro-choice” candidate, to a lifetime position on a district court. Matthew J. Nestor was later confirmed.

Finally, the ad makes the tired claim that Romney “created a government-run health care system, using taxpayer dollars to fund abortions.” The Massachusetts health care law expanded Medicaid, but also expanded private insurance. It’s not a “government-run” system. And the law Romney signed said nothing about abortion. Instead, the state exchange later determined that subsidized insurance plans would cover abortion. That follows two Massachusetts Supreme Court rulings, in 1981 and 1997, that said the state must cover medically necessary abortions. Some have said that Romney should have put limits on abortion coverage in the Massachusetts health care law, but the legislation actually says nothing on this topic.

— Lori Robertson