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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Another Abortion Falsehood from Obama’s ‘Truth Team’

The Obama campaign is falsely accusing the Republican Party’s platform of calling for banning abortions even in cases of rape or incest. That’s not true. The 2012 platform is silent on exceptions — leaving that decision up to Congress and the states — just as it was in 2008 and in previous presidential election years.

To make matters worse, the latest falsehood comes from the president’s “Truth Team.” An Aug. 20 posting on the “Truth Team’s” site repeats a bogus claim that Mitt Romney would “ban abortion even in cases of rape or incest,” adding (our emphasis): “He also supports the Republican Party platform, which includes a Human Life Amendment that bans abortion without those exceptions.”

The fact is, as we’ve noted again and again in response to false Obama TV ads, Romney has consistently said — as far back as 2005 — that he would allow abortions in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. (Before then, he supported a legal right to abortion generally, but switched his position to opposing abortion, with the usual exceptions.)

Banning abortion in cases of rape or incest is deeply unpopular with the public. A 2011 Gallup Poll showed, for example, that even persons who described themselves as “pro-life” favor exceptions for rape or incest by a wide margin. Gallup found that 59 percent of those abortion foes favored those exceptions, as did 91 percent of those who described themselves as “pro-choice.” But political expediency is no excuse for falsifying an opponent’s position.

Exceptions Allowed

It’s true that Romney has voiced support for the 2008 platform’s call for an unspecified “Human Life Amendment” to the Constitution, and the language approved by the party’s platform committee for 2012 is identical. But that’s a far cry from advocating an abortion ban that would apply in cases of rape or incest.

As we’ve said before, 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. For details, see our July 31 item, “Falsifying Romney’s Abortion Stance, Again.” Most of these amendments didn’t get out of committee.

The plain fact is, the only human life amendment that ever came to a vote in either house of Congress allowed exceptions. That was a 1983 measure, S.J.Res 3, sponsored by Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Thomas Eagleton of Missouri, among others.

The Hatch-Eagleton measure would have proposed for ratification a constitutional amendment that said simply, “A right to abortion is not secured by this Constitution.”

That failed by a vote of 49 to 50, falling far short of the 67 votes required for approval. Article V of the Constitution requires that two-thirds of both the House and the Senate approve a proposed amendment before it goes to the states.

But had that amendment been proposed by Congress, and then ratified by the state legislatures of 38 states, it would simply have negated the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling declaring a constitutional right to legal abortion. That would have returned the matter to the states and Congress to decide through legislation. Those bodies would have been free to keep abortion legal, or outlaw it, with or without exceptions.

Here’s what the 2012 GOP language says, as approved by the platform committee in Tampa on Aug. 20:

GOP Abortion plank: Faithful to the “self-evident” truths enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, we assert the sanctity of human life and affirm that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children. We oppose using public revenues to promote or perform abortion or fund organizations which perform or advocate it and will not fund or subsidize health care which includes abortion coverage.

Again, this makes no mention for or against exceptions of any sort. It doesn’t mention rape or incest at all.

To be sure, it’s possible to argue that saying an unborn child has “a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed” amounts to a call for an abortion ban without exceptions. But that’s not an interpretation shared by Romney, or by the authors of the amendment, for that matter.

Just to be sure we weren’t missing anything, we contacted the amendment’s author, James Bopp, who is also co-chairman of the party platform’s Subcommittee on Restoring Constitutional Government. He told us what he has told others in the news media:

James Bopp, Aug. 23: The Republican Party plank endorsing a Human Life Amendment does not take a position on which version of a Human Life Amendment should eventually be adopted. We leave that decision to Congress and the people of the United States at that time. Thus, we do not take a position on which exceptions should be included in a Human Life Amendment.

There’s a stark contrast between the actual positions of the two candidates. Obama favors maintaining a legal right to abortion, and Romney has for years opposed it, with the exceptions mentioned. Furthermore, Romney’s chosen running mate, Paul Ryan, opposes exceptions for rape or incest. And it would be accurate to say that the GOP platform calls for a constitutional amendment that would leave states free to adopt abortion bans without exceptions.

But that true contrast is not stark enough for the Obama campaign operatives. They stubbornly persist in claiming that Romney and now his party’s platform take an unpopular position that they don’t actually endorse.

— Brooks Jackson