Throughout the Republican US Senate primary, Gabriel E. Gomez described himself as “personally prolife,” but said he would not try to change abortion law, a nuanced position that has fanned some confusion on both sides of the abortion divide.
In a recent interview scheduled with the Globe specifically to explore his views on abortion rights, Gomez said that he favors parental consent for both abortion and the morning-after pill and that he opposes late-term abortion unless it is necessary to protect the life and health of the mother.
But he refused to take a stand on two of the most heated women’s health issues of recent years — congressional amendments that nearly derailed the health care overhaul and fueled allegations of a Republican “war against women” — because he said he remains unfamiliar with the details.
“Honestly, I haven’t read the Blunt Amendment, so it’s hard for me to go yea or nay without reading the full Blunt Amendment,” Gomez said last week, regarding a 2012 proposal that would have allowed employers to deny workers birth control coverage based on moral beliefs. “That’s part of the reason why these guys and women down there should read these whole things. . . . I’m happy to look at it.”
In the Globe interview, as in past interviews and debates, Gomez also tried to explain his acceptance of the law that legalized abortion by saying that even Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, a conservative, has accepted it as “settled law.”
“I’m not a lawyer, and obviously, Justice Scalia is about as educated a lawyer as you can be and has read thousands and thousands and heard thousands and thousands of cases,” Gomez said. “When I hear Justice Scalia say that 40 years is basically precedent in established law, I just kind of take it from a nonlawyer’s view and say, that pretty much — that makes sense to me just from a common-sense perspective.
Gomez’s campaign later acknowledged that he had misspoken when he referred to Scalia in the interview, as well as during previous debates and public appearances; he had confused him with Chief Justice John Roberts, who has called Roe v. Wade “settled law.”
Abortion is an issue on which Gomez and his Democratic rival, US Representative Edward J. Markey, differ sharply. Markey, who was an abortion rights opponent when he entered Congress in 1976, became a supporter in 1983, and has since developed a record strongly aligned with abortion rights advocates.
The 2012 Blunt Amendment, which would have let employers deny workers birth control coverage based on their own moral beliefs, died after outraged opponents said it would allow women’s health care decisions to be made by their bosses.
The amendment’s cosponsors, including Scott Brown when he was a senator, said they were defending religious liberty by protecting churches from paying for coverage that violates their doctrine.
“Oh, is this like the Catholic Church and all?” Gomez said, when pressed about the amendment. “Yeah, I don’t believe the Catholic Church – or any faith, any organization like that — should have to do something that goes against their doctrine.”
He also declined to take a stand on the Stupak amendment, a measure that threatened health care reform and erupted into controversy in the 2009 Senate special election in Massachusetts.
That measure, named for US Representative Bart Stupak, would have restricted federal subsidies from going to private health care plans that offer abortion, a move that abortion rights advocates said would have discouraged abortion coverage even in the private market.
In a recent interview on New England Cable News, Gomez said he would have to review the amendment before commenting on it. A week later, he told the Globe he had yet to read it.
“Is this federal funding for abortion? I don’t believe that there should be federal dollars to fund abortion,” Gomez said. When told that it was about whether private insurance companies that cover abortion can receive federal subsidies, Gomez said: “OK, but I don’t think there should be federal funding for abortions.”
Gomez said he hardly expects such issues to consume him at a time when he is focused on jobs, the economy, education, and veterans. While he calls himself personally prolife, his views resemble those of other successful Republicans in Massachusetts, who approached the issue of abortion rights carefully.
Those issues and women’s contraception surprisingly took center stage in 2012, an election year that saw Brown unseated, the president reelected, and other Republicans criticized for making ill-informed remarks about abortion and rape.
Brown, who lost his seat to Democrat Elizabeth Warren in November, had backed abortion rights but had cast some votes against abortion and contraception, often embracing a “conscience clause” for religious organizations to opt out of abortion and contraceptive coverage.
Like Brown, many of the Republicans who have been successful in Massachusetts have run on a more socially moderate platform accepting abortion rights.
Former governor Mitt Romney, who opposed abortion when he ran for president, had backed abortion rights when he ran for governor in 2002, saying that while he did not personally favor abortion, he would, as governor, respect the “law of the land” and protect a woman’s right to choose.
At the time, his spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom characterized his stance as “exactly the same position as any other prochoice politician.”
In his interview with the Globe last week, Gomez spoke in more detail than he has in past forums about what has shaped his views.
Though he said he considers himself prolife as a result of his Catholic faith, he accepts exemptions in cases of rape, incest, or danger to the life or health of the mother. He also said repeatedly that he would not seek to change the law if elected senator.
“I just believe that it’s established law and that’s what the law is,” Gomez said. “I’m not going to go down there and proactively change the law. I’m not sure how much more clear I can be on that.”
Gomez said he opposes federal funding for abortion, except in those exemptions, and he would vote for a new bill extending abortion coverage to Peace Corps volunteers overseas who fit into those exemptions. He disagreed, however, with a current Senate proposal to expand abortion access to all women in the military, beyond rape, incest, and life-saving measures.
Gomez also said he favors parental consent for abortions and even for Plan B, the morning-after pill that prevents pregnancy and that a judge recently ordered the Obama administration to allow to be sold over the counter without age restrictions.
Gomez also said he opposes late-term abortion, though he could not pinpoint when that would be.
Gomez’s reluctance to explain his positions on various aspects of abortion law and his acknowledged unfamiliarity with some of the recent issues generated added skepticism from abortion rights advocates.
“If the issues are too hard for him to understand, maybe he shouldn’t run for the US Senate,” said Martha M. Walz, president and chief executive of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts.
The political arm of her group, the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said it did not receive a reply from Gomez when seeking details about his views on abortion and contraception in February.
The group has endorsed Markey, who supports late-term abortions to protect the life or health of the mother, opposes the Blunt and Stupak amendments, opposes parental consent requirements for abortion, accepts the Food and Drug Administration’s minimum age of 15 for the morning-after pill, and supports federal funding for abortions.
Under normal circumstances, Gomez’s positions might be enough to merit him support from the state’s largest antiabortion advocacy group, Massachusetts Citizens for Life.
But Gomez has not yet met with that group either, and advocates see little room for hope in his position.
“If Gomez were elected, he would be better for us than Markey, I’d think,” said Anne Fox, president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life. “But I don’t count on him for much of anything.”