With 1 in 6 voters potentially making their choice on November based on the issue of abortion, it’s no surprise that abortion rights have come up once again as the presidential election nears. On Tuesday, Mitt Romney told the Des Moines Register, “There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.” Does this comment really constitute a ‘shift to the center’ for the pro-life Republican presidential candidate, as some suggest?
The short answer is no. After all, “Mitt Romney is proudly pro-life, and he will be a pro-life president.” The long answer poses another question — what will Romney do as a pro-life president? — and requires examining Romney’s agenda while remembering what exactly he can do about abortion.
Luckily, Romney himself has provided the answers.
Romney is correct in saying that, short of a constitutional personhood amendment like the one proposed in the 2012 GOP platform, he cannot directly decide the state of abortion rights in America. But he can certainly have an influence.
William Saletan lays it out at Salon: “Legislation was a gift from the questioner. By using that word, she allowed Romney to avoid mentioning the most important thing he would do to roll back abortion rights: appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe v. Wade. Nor did Romney have to acknowledge any other non-legislative changes he would make, though he did cite one: an executive order against federal funding of international family planning organizations that support abortion rights.”
“I hope to appoint justices for the Supreme Court that will follow the law and the constitution,” stated Romney in September. “And it would be my preference that they reverse Roe V. Wade and therefore they return to the people and their elected representatives the decisions with regards to this important issue.”
Governor Rick Perry confirmed the same to CBS on Wednesday, “We’ll have a Supreme Court decision, and that’s where the focus will be … He’s said very clearly that he’s going to put people who are constitutionalists on the Supreme Court.”
Even beyond the Supreme Court, the issue of abortion is far from settled, particularly on a state level.
Romney could still choose to support a host of pro-life bills currently pending in Congress, and he and his campaign have expressed his intent to do so. Almost immediately after Romney’s interview on Tuesday, Andrea Saul maintained that Romney would support “legislation aimed at providing greater protections for life.”
The Obama campaign has retaliated against Romney’s most recent talking point on abortion by asserting that he is trying to mislead voters, particularly women. On Wednesday morning, Obama for America hosted a press conference call with Cecile Richards (the president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund) and Stephanie Cutter (OFA Deputy Campaign Manager) because “Mitt Romney continues to be dishonest about his position on contraception and a women’s right to choose.”
“We know that the real Mitt Romney will say anything to win. With just 27 days left before the election, he’s cynically and dishonestly hiding his real positions.” said Cutter.
“But voters shouldn’t be fooled and won’t be fooled. He’s been running on these positions for six years. We saw proof of Romney’s dishonesty yesterday, when he didn’t tell the truth about his extreme position on abortion and then got fact-checked by his own campaign. He’s trying to hide his real position, but there’s no hiding when you’re president. And on this issue and so many others, women simply cannot trust Mitt Romney.”
Cecile Richards commented, “He knows that his positions on Planned Parenthood, on personhood, on birth control, on Roe cost him votes from women voters and men voters who are unwilling to go back 50 years in the election…I think these differences [between Obama and Romney] are going to be important."
Given the recent Gallup data, it appears that abortion will indeed be a salient issue. So what’s a pro-life presidential hopeful to do?
For the moment, Romney can do very little to affect abortion in America. Even as president, his influence would likely be indirect, played out through his selection of Supreme Court justices or strategic support of proposed pro-life legislation. But just because Romney does not include choice-restricting legislation in his agenda does not mean he will not be a pro-life president.