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Romney Long 'Bedeviled' by Abortion-Rights Issue

Romney Long 'Bedeviled' by Abortion-Rights Issue

February 13, 2012 — The issue of abortion rights has long "bedeviled" Mitt Romney's political career, most recently by forcing him to demonstrate his social conservative credentials to Republicans as he seeks the party's presidential nomination, the New York Times reports.

Since his shift from supporting abortion rights to opposing them, Romney has become increasingly outspoken on other reproductive health matters, including the ongoing contraceptive coverage debate and the recent controversy over Susan G. Komen for the Cure's grants to Planned Parenthood. In recent comments on whether religiously affiliated hospitals should be required to provide contraceptive coverage for employees, Romney claimed President Obama was forcing the facilities to provide "abortive pills."

Romney supported abortion rights for the first decade of his political career. While challenging Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) in 1994, Romney said he personally opposed abortion but thought that it should be "safe and legal." In a debate with Kennedy, he invoked a story of a relative who died after an illegal abortion, saying that "since that time [his] mother and [his] family have been committed to the belief that we can believe as we want, but we will not force our beliefs on others."

Romney courted the support of abortion-rights groups when he ran for Massachusetts governor in 2002. In a meeting with NARAL Pro-Choice America officials in 2002, he pledged that he would not change the state's abortion laws. He also stated in a Planned Parenthood questionnaire that he supported "the substance" of Roe v. Wade.

Decisions on Religious Exemptions as Governor

As governor of Massachusetts, Romney faced situations similar to those playing out on the national stage regarding the extent of accommodations the government should make for religiously affiliated employers that oppose contraception.

In summer 2005, Romney vetoed legislation to expand access to emergency contraception and penned an op-ed describing himself as a "pro-life governor in a pro-choice state." After the Legislature overrode his veto, Romney first backed an exemption that would allow Catholic hospitals to refuse to offer EC to rape survivors, but he then reversed course (Stolberg, New York Times, 2/11).

Additionally, when Romney submitted legislation to overhaul Massachusetts' health insurance system, he did not do away with an existing state law mandating that health plans -- including those offered by Catholic hospitals -- cover contraceptive services, the Wall Street Journal reports. Instead, he proposed that a board that would run the new insurance system be given the power to end the requirement and similar laws on other benefits. According to officials involved in the process, Romney's team never specifically considered the contraceptive coverage requirement separately from the other mandated benefits (Nicholas, Wall Street Journal, 2/13).