THE AD: “Changed?’’ airing in South Carolina. Over pictures of a grim-looking Mitt Romney, the ad’s narrator asks, “What happened after Massachusetts moderate Mitt Romney changed his position from proabortion to prolife? He governed proabortion.’’
The ad says Romney appointed a proabortion judge, expanded access to “abortion pills,’’ put Planned Parenthood on a state medical board but not a prolife group, and signed into law “government-mandated health care with taxpayer-funded abortions.’’
THE SPONSOR: Newt Gingrich’s presidential campaign.
FACT CHECK: Romney did change his position from supporting abortion rights to being antiabortion, apparently during his tenure as Massachusetts governor.
Romney did appoint Democrat Matthew Nestor to the Somerville District Court. According to ABC News, Nestor was a conservative Democrat and career prosecutor who supported abortion rights. The District Court deals with civil and criminal issues, not with constitutional issues such as abortion rights.
The Globe reported in 2005 that Romney signed a law allowing Massachusetts to seek a federal waiver to expand the number of low-income people eligible for state and federally funded family planning services. The change would give the same services already available to the lowest income individuals to another 88,000 people with slightly higher incomes. Services included the morning-after pill, a form of emergency contraception, and access to medical exams, cancer screenings, condoms, and pregnancy counseling. Romney vetoed a different bill to expand the use of the morning-after pills by requiring hospitals to offer them to rape victims and requiring pharmacists to dispense them without prescriptions, though the Legislature overrode his veto.
The board cited in the ad is the MassHealth payment policy advisory board, which reviews state Medicaid reimbursement rates. According to the Massachusetts health care reform law, passed under Romney in 2006, the 14-member board must include one representative of Planned Parenthood.
Romney’s 2006 health care overhaul did include an individual mandate that people buy health insurance - though the mandate is not tied to abortion. As the Globe reported this past weekend, Massachusetts’s Medicaid program has used taxpayer funds to cover abortions since 1981, based on a state court ruling. Under the 2006 overhaul, subsidies of abortions were extended to subscribers of the new Commonwealth Care program, whose incomes are too high to qualify for Medicaid but not high enough to afford unsubsidized insurance.
THE IMPACT: Though social issues such as abortion have largely taken a back seat in the presidential race, Gingrich is trying to hurt Romney with the social conservatives who make up a large segment of the South Carolina Republican electorate. He is also trying to renew the claim that Romney has no core principles. “Because Romney has a reputation for being a human surround sound on the abortion issue, I think this is going to have an instant recognition by voters,’’ said John Carroll, assistant professor of mass communication at Boston University.
But Carroll said there could be backlash. Even at his most liberal, Carroll said, Romney did not favor abortion but was a “reluctant supporter’’ of a woman’s right to make her own choices. “For Gingrich to call Romney proabortion is really . . . stretching propriety to the breaking point,’’ Carroll said. After a super PAC supporting Romney pummeled Gingrich in Iowa, Carroll said, this ad campaign could be seen as Gingrich taking revenge.