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Rep. Stephen Lynch changes tone on abortion rights

US Representative Stephen F. Lynch, vying for a Senate nomination, said he believes abortion should be legal but rare.

Barry Chin/Globe Staff

US Representative Stephen F. Lynch, vying for a Senate nomination, said he believes abortion should be legal but rare.

US Representative Stephen F. Lynch, who has consistently described himself as an antiabortion legislator, said Monday that he believes abortion is a constitutionally protected right and that as a US senator he would actively oppose anti­abortion nominees to the Supreme Court.

While Lynch insisted his views have not shifted, his rhetoric is coming closer to that of his Democratic rival for the Senate nomination, Edward J. Markey, a congressman who has long supported ­legalized abortion. Lynch’s new emphasis and arguments come just days after he entered the heated primary in which liberal voters who support abortion rights exert a large influence.

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Advocates are quick to point out that while Lynch and Markey both declare their support for legalized abortion, their records on the issue are different. While Markey has sided with abortion rights ­activists 100 percent of the time since 1996 and was close to that mark in previous years, Lynch’s record has varied dramatically from year to year.

Forces on both sides of the issue charge that Lynch is shifting his stance as he tries to expand beyond his socially conservative political base in South Boston to a liberal statewide primary.

“He’s trying to have it both ways,” said Megan Amundson, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, a group backing abortion rights.

Anne Fox, president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, the state’s leading antiabortion group, pointed out that when Lynch was representing South Boston in the state Senate, he had a 100 percent voting ­record from her group. When he ran for Congress in 2001, her group mailed out postcards urging voters to support him.

Now, Lynch is vowing to protect Roe v. Wade.

“Apparently, that’s what they think they’re supposed to do, politicians with their eyes on higher office, at least in Massachusetts,” Fox said.

Lynch said he is frustrated that abortion has become a “bumper-sticker issue” in which elected officials are ­expected to state their beliefs on a brief label.

He said he believes abortion should be legal, but rare, and that he would block Supreme Court nominees who want to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion.

“I have never seen the ­repeal of Roe v. Wade as a part of any solution,” Lynch said in an interview. “I do not think that solves anything, and, as a matter of fact, it doesn’t reduce abortions. It just changes it from a [clinical setting] to one that is more dangerous for women in crisis.”

Last Thursday, on his first day on the campaign trail, Lynch said he would vote for nominees who oppose legalized abortion because he did not believe the issue should be a “litmus test.” The congressman said Monday that he misheard the question from a Globe reporter.

Markey pointed to his long record of supporting abortion rights since he changed his ­position on the issue in 1983.

“Our records speak for themselves,” he said Monday. “There’s a clear historical difference, and I think voters will have to make up their mind based on the clear differences.”

In the past, Lynch has called himself an antiabortion Democrat whose views are ­informed by his Roman Catholic faith. In the Legislature, where he served from 1995 ­until 2001, he led an effort to ban abortions after 24 weeks, and opposed attempts to create a “buffer zone” to keep protesters away from abortion clinics.

“Unlike some people, I’m not sure precisely when life ­begins, or whether a fetus is a legal person,” Lynch told the Globe in 2001, when he was a state senator running for Congress. “But I believe strongly that this is at least the potential of human life and that it is the most special and precious gift and must be protected.”

In the US House, his record on the issue has been mixed.

He has received ratings from NARAL Pro-Choice America, an abortion rights group, that vary from 0 percent in 2004 and 2006 to 100 percent in 2007 and 2011. Meanwhile, he has sided with the National Right to Life Committee, an antiabortion group, 38 percent of the time during his 12 years in the House, with his highest ratings coming earlier in his conrgessional career.

Antiabortion activists credit Lynch with for backing them on several key votes.

In 2003, he voted to ban the procedure that opponents call partial-birth abortion. In 2009, during debate on President Obama’s health care overhaul, he supported the Stupak amendment, which sought to prohibit federal funding for abortion and federal subsidies for insurance plans that covered abortion. Last year, Lynch voted to ban sex-selective abortions.

But at times, Lynch has also angered antiabortion activists. Last year, he took to the House floor to denounce Republican efforts to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood. In that speech, he praised Planned Parenthood for providing cervical- and breast-cancer screening, and contraception that he said helps ­reduce the need for abortion.

“I don’t have many friends in the Planned Parenthood community,” Lynch told his colleagues. “They don’t support me. I’m prolife. But I respect the good work that they do.”

On Monday, Lynch said he still considers himself prolife because he continues to support a ban on partial-birth abortion. But he also supports Roe v. Wade, he said. “I do ­believe the Constitution should protect the right to privacy, absolutely. And that’s just not in the reproductive rights area, but generally, as well.”

Lynch on abortion rights through the years

“Just because I won’t engage in political acrobatics and change my position doesn’t mean that I’m not a Democrat.” - July 25, 2001, defending opposition to legalized abortion in a radio debate with fellow Democratic candidates for Congress.

“I’m not sure . . . whether a fetus is a legal person. But I believe strongly that this is at least the potential of human life, and that it is the most special and precious gift, and must be protected.” - September 9, 2001, Globe interview.

“I’m a prolife Democrat. . . . [But] I think we agreed at one point in this country that the best way to reduce abortion is to prevent unwanted pregnancies.” - Feb. 17, 2011, House floor speech, opposing efforts to defund Planned Parenthood.

“I don’t have many friends in the Planned Parenthood community. They don’t support me. I’m prolife. But I respect the good work that they do.” - Feb. 17, 2011, House floor speech, opposing efforts to defund Planned Parenthood.

“I don’t oppose it. I accept, I guess.” - Feb. 4, 2013, Globe interview, speaking of Roe v. Wade.

Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com.

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