A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Falsifying Romney’s Abortion Stance, Again


The Obama campaign is out with another ad making the false claim that Mitt Romney “backed a bill that outlaws all abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.” Romney’s consistent position through this campaign, and the last, and as far back as 2005, is that he opposes abortion except in cases when the life of the mother is in danger, and in cases of rape and incest.

This latest Obama campaign ad begins with a woman named “Jenni,” who says, “I’ve never felt this way before, but it’s a scary time to be a woman.” A narrator says Romney “backed a bill that outlaws all abortion, even in cases of rape and incest.”

The Obama campaign is a repeat offender with this distortion of Romney’s position on abortion. Then, as now, the Obama campaign rests its claim, in part, on an answer Romney gave during a 2007 debate, when he was asked if he would sign legislation to ban “all abortion” — assuming, hypothetically, that Roe v. Wade had been overturned. He gave a rambling response that ended by saying he’d be “delighted to sign it,” if there was a national consensus for it. But, he said, “that’s not where America is today.” Neither rape not incest were mentioned in the question, or in Romney’s answer. Meanwhile, Romney made clear — both before and after that debate — that his fuller position was that he opposes abortion except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

Most recently, Romney reaffirmed that position in a June 18, 2011, piece in National Review called “My Pro-Life Pledge,” his most fully articulated position on abortion during the current campaign. The piece begins: “I am pro-life and believe that abortion should be limited to only instances of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.” That has consistently been Romney’s official position dating back to a 2005 op-ed written for the Boston Globe in which he wrote, “I believe that abortion is the wrong choice except in cases of incest, rape, and to save the life of the mother.”

Nonetheless, the Obama campaign has stubbornly insisted that Romney’s support for Republican platforms that call for a human life amendment is evidence that he does not support exceptions for rape and incest. We disagree, for reasons we’ll get to shortly.

Human life amendments seek to declare that life legally begins at conception, and therefore fetuses would be afforded constitutional protections. During the 2008 campaign, ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos asked Romney specifically if he supported the Republican Party’s 2004 platform, and its plan for a human life amendment. Romney replied, “You know, I do support the Republican platform, and I support that being part of the Republican platform and I’m pro-life.”

But support for a human life amendment is not necessarily at odds with Romney’s repeatedly stated position that he supports exceptions for rape and incest. There have been numerous versions of human life amendments proposed over the years, some of which include exceptions for rape and incest and some of which don’t.

The National Committee for a Human Life Amendment has a website listing all the human life amendments between 1973 and 2003. The last human life amendment to come up for a vote — the Hatch-Eagleton Amendment, which failed in the Senate in a 49-50 vote in 1983 — made no mention of exceptions for rape and incest. But others both before and after it did, said Michael Taylor, the National Committee for a Human Life Amendment’s executive director.

For example, one such amendment, proposed by Missouri Rep. Jo Ann Emerson in 2003, specifically notes that “nothing in this article shall limit the liberty of a mother with respect to the unborn offspring of the mother conceived as a result of rape or incest.”

“It’s certainly possible to have exceptions under a human life amendment,” Taylor said. “That’s just a fact.”

David O’Steen, executive director of the National Right to Life Committee, said there are so many versions of human life amendments, it is not possible to know Romney’s position on exceptions based solely on his support for the concept of a constitutional amendment.

“There is not THE human life amendment,” O’Steen said. “There are many human life amendments. The term human life amendment now goes back about 40 years. It’s become a generic term to describe a constitutional amendment to overturn Roe v. Wade.”

In his conversations with the NRLC, Romney has been clear and consistent in both this election and the last that he supports exceptions to abortion bans when the life of the mother is in danger, and in cases of rape or incest, O’Steen said. NRLC does not support exceptions for rape and incest.

If Romney really did not support exceptions for rape and incest, O’Steen said, it stands to reason, “that he would tell a Right to Life group if he had a stronger position. Consistently, he has told us [he makes exceptions for ] life of the mother, rape and incest.”

As a practical matter, O’Steen said, no constitutional amendment will be passing through Congress in the foreseeable future. To pass, it would need approval of two-thirds of both houses of Congress, and then three-quarters of the states have to ratify it.

And despite Romney’s answer to Stephanopoulos in 2007, it’s not clear that Romney would support a constitutional amendment anyway. In a GOP forum in South Carolina on Sept. 5, 2011, he was asked if, as president, he would “propose to Congress appropriate legislation pursuant to the 14th Amendment to protect human life in all stages and conditions.” Romney said he would not.

Romney, Sept. 5, 2011: Let me tell you what my orientation would be, which is I would like to appoint to the Supreme Court justices who believe in following the constitution as opposed to legislating from the bench.

I would like to see that Supreme Court return to the states the responsibility to determining laws related to abortion, as opposed to having the federal Supreme Court from the bench telling America and all the states how they have to do it. I think that’s the appropriate course.

Now, is there a constitutional path to have the Congress say we’re going to push aside the decision of the Supreme Court and we instead are going to step forward and return to the states this power or put in place our own views on abortion.

That would create obviously a constitutional crisis. Could that happen in this country? Could there be circumstances where that might occur? I think it’s reasonable that something of that nature might happen someday. That’s not something I would precipitate.

What I would look to do would be appoint people to the Supreme Court that will follow strictly the constitution as opposed to legislating from the bench. I believe that we must be a nation of laws.

Overturning Roe?

The ad also claims that Romney “supports overturning Roe v. Wade” and “opposes requiring insurance coverage for contraceptives.” That first claim is uncontested. Romney’s campaign website states that he “believes that the right next step is for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade – a case of blatant judicial activism.”

As for the claim that Romney “opposes requiring insurance coverage for contraceptives,” the Obama campaign points to Romney’s support for a failed amendment proposed by Sen. Roy Blunt that would have allowed any employer with moral objections to opt out of the health care law’s requirement to provide insurance that covers contraception. Romney does not oppose insurance companies offering contraception coverage, a point he made clear during an awkward exchange with Stephanopoulos during a Republican primary debate in January. Romney said that he would “totally and completely oppose any [state] effort to ban contraception.”

But the ad says Romney opposes requiring insurance companies to provide contraception, and the Romney campaign told us that as a matter of policy, Romney does not believe the federal government should be mandating what is or is not in all insurance plans — contraception or otherwise.

— Robert Farley