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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Twisting Romney’s Abortion Stance

An Obama campaign ad twists Mitt Romney’s stance on abortion, claiming Romney “backed a law that outlaws all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest.”

During a 2007 debate, Romney was asked if he would sign legislation to ban “all abortion” — assuming, hypothetically, that Roe v. Wade had been overturned. He said 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.” 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.

The Obama campaign ad says “every woman who believes decisions about our bodies and our health care should be our own” should be troubled by Romney’s positions.

They should be troubled, the ad argues, because Romney “supported overturning Roe v. Wade,” and would cut off funding to Planned Parenthood, an agency that provides women “life-saving cancer screenings and family planning services.” Those two positions are 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,” and that the issue ought to be left to individual states to determine. The site also notes that as president, Romney would “end federal funding for abortion advocates like Planned Parenthood.”

The ad goes too far, however, with its claim that “Romney backed a law that outlaws all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest.”

First of all, there was no actual law for Romney to back. Rather, the Obama campaign points to an answer Romney gave to a hypothetical question posed by an audience member during a November 2007 Republican presidential candidates debate sponsored by CNN (during Romney’s first run for president).

A.J. from Millstone, New Jersey, Nov. 28, 2007: If hypothetically Roe versus Wade was overturned, and the Congress passed a federal ban on all abortion, and it came to your desk, would you sign it? Yes or no?

Romney: I agree with Senator (Fred) Thompson, which is we should overturn Roe v. Wade and return these issues to the states. I would welcome a circumstance where there was such a consensus in this country that we said, we don’t want to have abortion in this country at all, period. That would be wonderful. I’d be delighted.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper: The question is: Would you sign that bill?

Romney: Let me say it. 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 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 the country, terrific.

The Obama campaign points to two instances in which Romney has said during the 2012 campaign that he has the same positions today as he had four years ago. Therefore, the argument goes, Romney currently supports a federal ban of “all abortions.” The problem with that connect-the-dots is that while Romney may not have been specific during the debate about what, if any, exceptions he supported to the hypothetical “federal ban on all abortions” that the questioner posed, Romney was more specific on several occasions, both before and after that debate.

In an op-ed written for the Boston Globe on July 26, 2005, Romney wrote:

Romney, July 26, 2005: I am prolife. I believe that abortion is the wrong choice except in cases of incest, rape, and to save the life of the mother. I wish the people of America agreed, and that the laws of our nation could reflect that view. But while the nation remains so divided over abortion, I believe that the states, through the democratic process, should determine their own abortion laws and not have them dictated by judicial mandate.

During the 2008 campaign, Romney maintained that position, as you can see on the Romney campaign website from January 2008 (accessed via the Internet Archive Wayback Machine).

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.”

As we have written in the past, there’s no question that Romney’s position on abortion has changed during his political career — most dramatically since his run for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts in 1994. But his position opposing abortion — including the exceptions he makes in the case of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother — has remained consistent during both his 2008 and 2012 runs for president.

— Robert Farley