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Romney Tries to Claim that Abortion Not an Executive Branch Issue

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I guess Mitt Romney wanted to get in one more shift in position before his convention speech. On CBS News last night, Romney added an exception to his views on abortion rights, and also tried to claim that Presidents have nothing to do with the matter.

First, Romney said this:

“My position has been clear throughout this campaign,” Romney said. “I’m in favor of abortion being legal in the case of rape and incest, and the health and life of the mother….This is a matter in the courts, it’s been settled for some time in the courts.”

As Igor Volsky pointed out, throughout the campaign, the exceptions that Romney delineates (and so I don’t have to reiterate, read here my position on exceptions) have never included the health of the mother, only the life of the mother. Health means something entirely different, especially to the anti-choice movement. When the late-term abortion ban was being legislated during the Bush Administration, a guy named Paul Ryan said that such a health exception “would render (the ban) virtually meaningless.” And of course, the Republican platform, which all Presidential nominees basically control, makes no mention of any exceptions in endorsing a full abortion ban.

Andrea Saul, Romney’s spokeswoman, basically denied that Romney used the word health, saying that “Gov. Romney’s position is clear: he opposes abortion except for cases of rape, incest and where the life of the mother is threatened.” Maybe he’s had the position so recently, he can’t always articulate it properly.

Perhaps more important, Romney claimed that Presidents have no role in the abortion issue:

“Recognize this is the decision that will be made by the Supreme Court,” Romney told CBS. “The Democrats try and make this a political issue every four years, but this is a matter in the courts. It’s been settled for some time in the courts.”

This is a ridiculous statement. Practically the first thing every new President has done for the last 30 years has been to either reinstate or remove the global gag rule or the “Mexico City policy,” which prevents NGOs from working with or even mentioning abortion service providers in foreign countries. And indeed, Mitt Romney has said he would reinstate it. And Presidents do a little thing called appointing Supreme Court justices, which bears some impact on how the issue gets decided in the courts. Romney has promised, in an indirect way, that abortion would be a litmus test.

Clearly this is getting to the Romney-Ryan ticket. Paul Ryan was quoted yesterday saying that the term “forcible rape” was “stock language”, which is why it was used in the No Taxpayer Funding For Abortion Act. I’m surprised he didn’t say “I don’t want to get wonky on you” beforehand.

Abortion, and more broadly women’s health and women’s rights, is on the ballot in November, as much as the Republican ticket would like it not to be.

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David Dayen

David Dayen