Don’t Believe Misleading Attacks on Romney’s Abortion Record

Politics   |   David French   |   Dec 30, 2011   |   8:58PM   |   Washington, DC

First, we all know Mitt Romney is a convert on the life issue, so his record prior to that conversion is checkered, at best.  

Second, it’s beyond dispute that Mitt’s record in office on life issues was far, far better than, say, Ronald Reagan’s before he became president.  (Mitt vetoed pro-abortion legislation and won an award from his state’s most prominent pro-life advocacy group; Governor Reagan signed into law one of the nation’s most liberal abortion laws pre-Roe).  Third, Mitt has issued a very specific pro-life pledge that addresses every single major plank of the pro-life platform.  Fourth, it’s clear that the Left views Mitt’s conversion as genuine: NARAL has targeted himabove other Republican presidential candidates.  Mitt is pro-life, and he’ll be a pro-life president.

The stop-Mitt movement, however, is now in full-on crisis mode.  With Mitt surging in Iowa, maintaining a huge lead in New Hampshire, and with various Mitt alternatives struggling, it’s apparently time to take the gloves off.  Erick “not even Rick Santorum is conservative enough for me” Erickson is the latest to unleash a recycled and obscure attack.

Channeling his inner Fred Thompson (himself a former pro-choice politician), Erickson’s broadside begins:

You should be quite familiar by now with the fact that Mitt Romney gave $150.00 to Planned Parenthood in 1994 when claiming he had always been pro-abortion.

You should also know that in 2004, Mitt Romney says he personally converted to the pro-life position. In fact, according to ABC News on June 14, 2007, “Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has long cited a November 2004 meeting with a Harvard stem-cell researcher as the moment that changed his long-held stance of supporting abortion rights to his current ‘pro-life’ position opposing legal abortion. But several actions Romney took mere months after that meeting call into question how deep-seated his conversion truly was.”

He then charges Mitt with three specific post-conversion offenses: nominating a pro-abortion judge to a Massachusetts state-court seat, signing a bill that “could” expand access to the morning-after pill, and that Romneycare not only expanded access to abortion, it “gave Planned Parenthood new rights under state law.”  Let’s take these issues in turn.

First, the judges.  Yes, Mitt nominated a pro-abortion judge . . . to a state court position that has no authority over abortion law.  I addressed this issue in an Evangelicals for Mitt post dated all the way back to January, 2007 (yes, folks, that’s how old this charge is):

Regarding judges, here I think [critics blur] the difference between federal and state court judges and the federal and state (in this case, Massachusetts) systems of judicial nominations and approvals. First, when we talk about the Governor’s allegedly “liberal” judicial appointments, we are talking about judges who deal primarily with criminal matters–not the constitutional issues that can dominate the federal judicial debate. Given this reality, Governor Romney did not nominate judges who were “liberal” or “leftist” within their job description. The Governor wanted individuals who were tough on crime. As he said, “With regard to those at the district court and clerk magistrate level, their political views aren’t really going to come into play unless their views indicate they will be soft on crime.” So the reality is that the Governor nominated judges who were tough on crime to fill spots that dealt primarily with crime. State court judges at this level have absolutely no say over abortion rights. None. Abortion is primarily a matter of federal–not state–constitutional law.

Second, every one of Governor Romney’s judicial nominees has to be approved by the “Governor’s Council”, a popularly-elected, eight member board that is dominated by Democrats (as is most of Massachusetts state government). Imagine a situation where the President of the United States had to run all of his judicial nominees by a Senate that contained 85% Democrats–most of them of the radical sort. That would change the picture a bit, wouldn’t it? I think the best way to think of Governor Romney’s track record in nominating judges is that he did the best that he could have done.

So what does a state District Court appointment mean for abortion law?  Nothing.  And did Mitt succeed in nominating a tough-on-crime judge?  Well, yes.  Lawyers have nicknamed him “The Hammer” for his sentencing practices.

Next, what about Mitt’s allegedly inconsistent position on the morning-after pill?  Once again, when you look at the details, the picture is different than that painted by Erickson. Mitt vetoed a bill that would have mandated access without a prescription, a move wholeheartedly endorsed by the pro-life movement.  The bill Mitt actually signed — and Erickson condemned — was merely a request for Massachusetts to get federal reimbursement for services it was already providing at cost (roughly $5 million) to the state.  The bill wasn’t expanding access to abortions but instead cost-shifting contraceptive services to the federal government.  In fact, even Mitt’s critics said it “could” expand access to the morning-after pill, not that it would.

Finally, let’s deal with the Romneycare attack.  Let’s make one thing perfectly clear, any abortion coverage contained in Massachusetts insurance plans is required by Massachusetts legal precedent that Mitt could not alter.  The Weekly Standard raised this issue in a recent piece by John McCormack:

Some social conservatives don’t buy Romney’s defense that it’s all the fault of the judges. “You know what I would think if I were a pro-lifer? That’s a pretty darn good reason not to have the government take over the health care system,” says Steve Deace, a Christian conservative Iowa radio host and longtime Romney antagonist. “Forget the mandate, which is wrong to begin with. The first moral principle is don’t murder.”

Why would Romney expand access to government-subsidized health care if those plans would cover elective abortions? David French of Evangelicals for Mitt says that argument is a “classic example of not understanding what an actual governor of an actual blue state has to face.”

French argues that by going to the Heritage Foundation for advice and using what leverage he had, Romney got the best deal he could in Massachusetts. “Doing nothing wasn’t a realistic alternative,” he says. “People need to get over the idea that he’s coming out of Texas. He’s coming out of Massachusetts.”

“Mitt Romney did not have the option of saying .  .  . that there won’t be government involvement in Massachusetts health care,” says French. “He was a conservative governor facing a veto-proof [Democratic] supermajority in both houses dead-set on a particular kind of health care reform.”

Regarding Planned Parenthood’s presence on a state panel, yes they apparently have a reserved slot (along with 13 other representatives) on something called the MassHealth Payment Policy Advisory Board (not on the “planning board for the health care plan” as some have claimed).  This Board has no authority over abortion policy and in fact has no real power except to compile reports and make recommendations).

So, where does this leave us?  Mitt’s actions as governor were worthy of his pro-life award.  Even the worst action (allowing Planned Parenthood access to a payment advisory board — something I definitely don’t agree with) had zero impact on abortions in Massachusetts.  When he could have an impact, he vetoed expanded access to the morning-after pill and vetoed expanded stem cell research.  Crucially, he also became an advocate for life in a state that badly needs such advocates.  Writing in the Boston Globe on July 26, 2005, Mitt said this:

You can’t be a prolife governor in a prochoice state without understanding that there are heartfelt and thoughtful arguments on both sides of the question. Many women considering abortions face terrible pressures, hurts, and fears; we should come to their aid with all the resourcefulness and empathy we can offer. At the same time, the starting point should be the innocence and vulnerability of the child waiting to be born.

In some respects, these convictions have evolved and deepened during my time as governor. In considering the issue of embryo cloning and embryo farming, I saw where the harsh logic of abortion can lead — to the view of innocent new life as nothing more than research material or a commodity to be exploited.

If we’re going to win the battle for life, we need converts — like Ronald Reagan and like Mitt Romney.  If I had the slightest doubt that Mitt Romney would govern as a pro-life president, I wouldn’t be an “evangelical for Mitt.”

LifeNews Note:  David French is an attorney with the Alliance Defense Fund writing in his own personal capacity.