Romney Says Abortion Isn’t on His Agenda, Campaign Disagrees (Update)

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Can we talk about this a month from now?
Can we talk about this a month from now? Photo: Steve Pope/2012 Getty Images

It turns out all that time Mitt Romney spent discussing his position on abortion during the primaries was just a waste of time, because he's not planning on pushing any new abortion laws if he's elected. His talk of overturning Roe v. Wade, defunding Planned Parenthood, and adding a constitutional amendment banning abortion might have left the impression that he would, but the new moderate Romney doesn't consider the issue a priority. On Tuesday he told the Des Moines Register editorial board, "There's no legislation with regards to abortion that I'm familiar with that would become part of my agenda."

The Obama administration quickly pounced on the apparent shift in Romney's abortion stance. “We know the truth about where he stands on a woman’s right to choose," said Obama spokeswoman Lis Smith. "He’s said he’d be delighted to sign a bill banning all abortions, and called Roe v. Wade 'one of the darkest moments in Supreme Court history,’ while pledging to appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn it. Women simply can’t trust him."

Over the years Romney has radically altered his position on the issue a number of times, as exhaustively detailed by Slate's William Saletan, starting his political career as a pro-choice Republican and then vaulting across the ideological divide to take the pro-life pledge. Since securing the Republican nomination, he has tacked back to the center and downplayed his anti-abortion stance, telling 60 Minutes in August that the abortion issue has "been settled for some time in the courts."

While talking with the Register, Romney clarified that there is one anti-abortion measure on his agenda. He plans to reinstate the Mexico City Policy, which bans foreign aid from being used for abortions. Technically, that isn't legislation, since Romney would use an executive order to reinstate the policy, which was dropped by President Obama during his first month in office. When asked to clarify Romney's abortion stance, spokeswoman Andrea Saul said that he's "proudly pro-life, and he will be a pro-life president," adding, “Governor Romney would of course support legislation aimed at providing greater protections for life.” Fortunately, Romney left some wiggle room in his statement to the paper. He may not be "familiar with" any particular piece of anti-abortion legislation, but if something comes up he could always pencil it in.

Update: Saletan has deciphered Romney's use of "weasel words" in his latest abortion comments:

  • "Legislation" lets Romney avoid mentioning that he would appoint Supreme Court justices who could overturn Roe v. Wade.
  • "that I’m familiar with" gives him a convenient dodge if a pro-life bill reaches his desk for signature.
  • "My agenda," Saletan explains, "is a classic Romney dodge." It simply refers to his plan at the moment, which could of course change at any time.