Romney, Abortion And Federalism

Has Mitt Romney contradicted himself about abortion? Again? The answer, not surprisingly, isn't clear.

I interviewed Romney in February, and here's what he told me:

NJ: You would favor a constitutional amendment banning abortion with exceptions for the life of the woman, rape, and incest. Is that correct?

Romney: What I've indicated is that I am "pro-life" and that my hope is that the Supreme Court will give to the states over time, or give to the states soon, ... their own ability to make their own decisions with regard to their own abortion law.

NJ: What if a state wanted unlimited abortion?

Romney: The state would fall into restrictions that had been imposed at the federal level, so they couldn't be more expansive in abortion than currently exists under the law, but they could become more restrictive in abortion provisions. So states like Massachusetts could stay like they are, if they so desire. And states that have a different view could take that course. And it would be up to the citizens of the individual states. My view is not to impose a single federal rule on the entire nation, a one-size-fits-all approach, but instead allow states to make their own decisions in this regard.

Monday morning, he told ABC News that he favors the Republican Party's platform plank on life, which endorses a constitutional amendment banning abortion,.

The way his campaign explains the apparent discrepancy:

“Governor Romney supports the Republican Party’s platform protecting the sanctity of life,” Romney spokesman Kevin Madden told ABC News. “He believes that Roe v. Wade should be overturned so that the life issue can be returned to the democratic process through the people and their elected representatives. Governor Romney’s support for the Republican Party’s pro-life platform and overturning Roe v. Wade are complementary goals and beliefs.”

.. opens more doors than it closes.

The theory of giving states the power to answer contested moral questions assumes that state legislators represent and reflect the cultural values of the state's voters more accurately than their Congressional representatives or Senators. Federalism as applied to abortion implies that states are most appropriate laboratory for these experiments.

But after an undetermined period, Romney would yank that power upward and endorse constitutional conventions which would lead to a constitutional ban, effectively overturning the will of the majority of, say, New Yorkers or Oregonians who would permit abortion.

Perhaps he expects our politics to change so profoundly; perhaps he expects an even more polarized abortion debate to benefit the pro-life side; if South Dakota doesn't endorse a complete abortion ban, I'd say that a national abortion ban is probably not politically tenable for the next thirty years or so.

That's thirty more years of abortions.

Many pro-lifers believe that abortion is a moral evil so grave as to require the immediate intervention of the government; that it doesn't matter whether a majority of people support it or not; that protecting innocent human life is the proximate and ultimate goal and that a Constitutional amendment is the quickest way to save lives.

Others -- Romney included, I presume -- believe that there are other values to worry about. One is democracy; voters must recognize a moral evil as a moral evil in order to support such a drastic measure. When Romney was faced with a court decision mandating gay marriage in his state, one of his principle objections followed the same line of argument, albeit from the opposite side: it was one thing to suggest that gay people ought to have the right to get married, but it was quite another to assume that the democratic process itself was incapable of arriving at that result. Romney opposed gay marriage and wanted to resolve the conflict (at the time) by ballot initiative. This is a reasonable and coherent position.

But that's not what Romney has said. In February, I asked Romney about a constitutional amendment that would be weaker than what the RNC platform calls for. He specifically answered that he did not want to impose a one-size fits all solution. I was left with the impression that Romney opposed a human rights amendment, and he did not disabuse me of the notion. (See my follow up question.)

Romney had every chance to answer my question with a single phrase -- "yes" or -- a "yes, but I'd first give power to the states to decide this, and then I'd support an amendment." He did not.


Sen. Sam Brownback recorded a response to Romney in re: abortion.