Obama Recommits to Abortion Deception

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SAUL LOEB / AFP / Getty Images

US President Barack Obama speaks during the 113th National Convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars at the Reno Sparks Convention Center in Reno, Nevada, on July 23, 2012

The Obama campaign is out with a new campaign ad Thursday, tripling down on its false claim that Mitt Romney wants to outlaw all abortion, even in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother.


Romney has been consistent on this point since 2005, when he announced that he would be a pro-life politician. Whenever he has been asked about a rape, incest or life of the mother exception, he has said he supports it. At the start of this campaign, he laid out his conservative approach to abortion in a National Review op-ed. The first sentence read, “I am pro-life and believe that abortion should be limited to only instances of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.” At the Vice Presidential debate in Kentucky, Paul Ryan restated the Romney campaign’s position: “The policy of a Romney administration will be to oppose abortions with the exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.” Romney has also clearly stated to the press that Obama is misrepresenting his position on abortion.

The Obama campaign, and its defenders, argue that none of these clear and definitive statements matter, because of another statement Romney made in public where the issue of exceptions in cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother was not discussed. I have written about this before, but think it is worth repeating, given the centrality of this issue in the Obama campaign’s messaging and the significant feedback I have gotten on Twitter from Obama supporters.

Here is the transcript, from a Republican debate on Nov. 28, 2007:

A.J. from Millstone, N.J.: If hypothetically Roe versus Wade was overturned, and the Congress passed a federal ban on all abortion, and it came to your desk, would you sign it? Yes or no?

Romney: I agree with Senator (Fred) Thompson, which is we should overturn Roe v. Wade and return these issues to the states. I would welcome a circumstance where there was such a consensus in this country that we said, we don’t want to have abortion in this country at all, period. That would be wonderful. I’d be delighted.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper: The question is: Would you sign that bill?

Romney: Let me say it. I’d be delighted to sign that bill. But that’s not where we are. That’s not where America is today. Where America is is ready to overturn Roe v. Wade and return to the states that authority. But if the Congress got there, we had that kind of consensus in the country, terrific.

Romney conditions his support for this hypothetical bill on an America that does not exist, or one in which there is “such a consensus in this country that we said, we don’t want to have abortion in this country at all, period.” He also says clearly, “that’s not where we are.” In other words, he does not say that he would push against popular opinion to support such a bill. He is also silent on whether his ban would include exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. Obama supporters say he doesn’t need to be explicit about exceptions, since the question is about “all abortions.” But the history of abortion debates within the Republican Party suggests otherwise.

For the last four presidential election cycles, the GOP platform has supported what has been called a “human life amendment,” which on its face would sound like an amendment that declares all fetus’ to be human lives, and therefore criminalizes all abortion. Except, that is not exactly the case, since the human life amendment is intentionally undefined in the platform. If you ask spokespeople for the Republican Party, they will tell you that the platform is silent on whether there should be exceptions for rape, incest or the life of the mother. How can this be?

There is, in fact, a history of so-called “human life amendments” that would allow for these exceptions. As FactCheck.org notes, “The only human life amendment that ever came to a vote in either house of Congress allowed exceptions.” It said simply, “A right to abortion is not secured by the Constitution.”

Furthermore, ever since the human life language made it into the platform, the Republican nominee for president has explicitly supported exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. George W. Bush did. John McCain did. Mitt Romney does. In 2000, in a debate with McCain who opposed the life amendment language, Bush made explicit the word game that Republicans play.

McCain: George, do you believe in the exemption in abortion, case of abortion, for rape, incest and life of the mother?
Bush: Yes, I do. I do.
McCain: Then, you know, it’s interesting, you were talking about printed material that’s mailed out. Here’s one that says that George W. Bush supports the pro-life plank. The pro-life plank.
Bush: I do.
McCain: Yes. So in other words …
Bush: Yes …
McCain: … your position is that you believe there’s an exemption for rape, incest and the life of the mother, but you want the platform that you’re supposed to be leading to have no exemption.
Bush: Yes, but …
McCain: Help me out there, will you? …
Bush:The platform talks about – it doesn’t talk about what specifically should be in the Constitutional amendment. … The platform speaks about a Constitutional amendment. It doesn’t refer to how that Constitutional amendment ought to be defined.

Now let us return to the hypothetical situation that was presented to Romney in a debate two years ago. The Obama campaign and its supporters believe that the use of the phrase “all abortion” in this case categorically rules out any possibility of exceptions. Given the games that Republicans often play around this issue, that is a big assumption to make.

But the bigger problem with the Obama campaign’s attack is that it resembles a conspiracy theory in its selective reading of the facts. The Obama campaign does not deny that Romney said before, after and says now that he supports exceptions. The Obama campaign does not deny that there is no record of Romney ever responding to a question about exceptions and saying otherwise. Rather, the Obama campaign is arguing that Romney does not actually believe in the policy he has consistently put forward. And their only evidence for this is not a secretly recorded video tape, but a nationally televised debate, in which Romney gave a conditional answer, with imperfect grammar, to a question about a hypothetical world in which Roe v. Wade had been overturned that made no mention of rape, incest or the life of the mother. In other words, if voters want to know where Romney stands on abortion ban exceptions, they have a choice: Look at what Romney says, or believe that he is lying, and will do something else if elected.

The independent fact checkers who have looked at this question have all said the Obama campaign is deceiving voters. (See here, here, here.) The political minds who look at this, including Republicans, say there is no question why the Obama campaign is sticking with the deception. As I wrote before, Obama is trying to scare women into not voting for Romney. And there is clear evidence, as even Romney campaign officials will admit, that this effort is having some effect. But political expediency does not excuse deception, even if the other side is doing it too.

To read more on how both campaigns have been twisting the truth, see my cover story here, and this followup here.