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2012 hopefuls scrutinized for failure to sign anti-abortion pledge
Five Republican presidential hopefuls have signed a pledge promising to ”not just check off the pro-life box but show true pro-life leadership if elected president.” Only three of those asked to sign — former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson and Atlanta businessman Herman Cain — declined to do so.
The group’s list called on each GOP presidential candidate to agree to four specific anti-abortion pledges:
- To only nominate judges “who are committed to restraint and applying the original meaning of the Constitution, not legislating from the bench.”
- To select pro-life appointees to key cabinet positions in their administrations.
- To advance legislation to end taxpayer-funded abortions “in all domestic and international spending programs” and to defund Planned Parenthood.
- To advance a “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” sometimes known as a “fetal pain” bill.
To proclaim support for a “fetal pain” bill is a fairly controversial declaration — even for staunch abortion opponents because although those who advocate for such legislation insist that fetuses can feel pain early in pregnancy, most scientific evidence points to the perception of pain beginning in the third trimester.
‘Fetal Pain’ Controversies in Iowa
The controversy over “fetal pain” bills began in 2010, when the Nebraska Legislature passed the first such law in the country. Despite often heated debate and demonstrations, the law has not yet undergone judicial challenge.
The resulting situation in Nebraska led to an announcement by Dr. LeRoy Carhart that he would open or serve in medical facilities offering abortions in at least three additional states. One of the locations he floated was in Council Bluffs, just across the river from his existing facility in Bellevue, Neb. Debate in Iowa exploded, with many anti-abortion rights lawmakers (as well as some lawmakers historically supportive of abortion rights) pledging to block any such facility.
Initially it appeared that the bill would die in Senate committee, but through a procedural move, the proposal was once again active. Senate Democrats, led on this issue by Sen. Joe Bolkcom, essentially set the House proposal aside in favor of new language that would only allow medical facilities offering late-term abortions near certain hospital services and only following a state board certification process.
Although the Senate bill would prevent Carhart or any other doctor providing such services from locating in Council Bluffs, House Republicans were not satisfied and have passed, without debate, a bill more strict than any other in the nation.
Since the Iowa Legislature remains in extended session, the future of the latest proposal remains in limbo.
2012 Hopefuls Seize Opportunity To Attack Romney
On the national level, the list of GOP hopefuls who signed the pledge includes former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich, U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum.
While both Cain and Romney describe themselves as “pro-life,” critics — and anti-abortion advocates — have lashed out at those who refused to sign. As pointed out by The Washington Post, the Susan B. Anthony Lists’s deputy director, Billy Valentine, was extremely critical of Romney in 2008, during his time as a student activist.
The issue of abortion during the 2008 presidential campaign wasn’t hidden behind over-riding economic issues like it is today, and it proved to be a major thorn in the side of Romney as he actively and relentlessly worked to pull social conservative supporters in Iowa into his previous campaign.
“When someone who is pro-choice becomes pro-life, the media and some people just can’t get enough of it. You go the other direction and it is heralded like you’ve made some great and wonderful discovery. If you become firmly pro-life, people get all upset about it,” Romney told a 2007 Cedar Rapids crowd when asked to explain his stance on the issue.
Republicans who signed the national pledge wasted no time throwing their fellow candidates under the bus for failing to sign.
“This past Monday night at the Republican Presidential Debate, I was asked about Governor Romney’s pro-life conversion, and I gave him the benefit of the doubt. I apparently spoke too soon,” Santorum said in a statement released by his campaign. “It is is incredibly disappointing that Governor Romney chose not to defend those who cannot defend themselves.”
The bottom of the Santorum press release notes that Cain and Johnson also declined to take the pledge, but offers no other statement toward the men.
Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul told told LifeNews the Susan B. Anthony List’s well-intentioned effort contained “some potentially unforeseen consequences” that prevented him from signing it “in good conscience.” When asked to specify, Saul said: “The pledge calls for legislation to strip taxpayer funding from hospitals around the country, and strictly limits the choices a President would have to appoint cabinet members.”
Such cautions weren’t enough to prevent the other hopefuls from capitalizing on the situation by taking a swipe at perceived front-runner Romney.
“It is distressing that Governor Romney refuses to sign the SBA Pledge, even while claiming to be pro-life. The excuses for not signing clearly continue the doubts about his leadership and commitment to ending the practice of abortion – particularly for a candidate who ran as pro-choice for the Senate and Governorship of Massachusetts,” Bachmann said in a statement.
Jesse Benton, campaign manager for Paul, said, “Given Governor Romney’s past flip-flops on the Right to Life issue and his support for Obamacare-like individual mandates, this stance is very troubling. Right to Life conservatives must question Gov. Romney’s commitment to our cause.”
During an interview with conservative radio host Laura Ingram, Gingrich said Romney was making “excuses” for not signing the pledge and that he “thought it was a pretty clear-cut pledge.”
Cain indicated in a campaign statement that he fully agrees with the first three aspects of the plan, but that he ultimately could not sign because the pledge called for him, as president, to advance “fetal pain” legislation, which is a duty of the legislative and not the executive branch.
“In no way does this singular instance of clarification denote an abandonment of the pro-life movement, but is instead a testament to my respect for the balance of power and the role of the presidency,” Cain said.
Cain is slated to appear at the National Right to Life convention in Jacksonville later this week, alongside Santorum and Paul. In addition to signing the pledge, Santorum stated in West Des Moines that he wants to be the most conservative of all conservative candidates, and denounced any legalized health exceptions for abortion as “phony.”
Johnson has historically supported limited abortion rights, a position that has already garnered him the title of “pro-abortion candidate” by some activists.
On the Our America Initiative website, Johnson’s position is explained:
Life is precious and needs to be protected. Deciding to have an abortion is a very difficult decision. As Governor, Gary Johnson supported legislation that banned late term abortions and allowed for parental notification for minors seeking an abortion. He believes that ultimately it is a woman’s right to make such a decision during the early stage of pregnancy.
Judges should be appointed who will interpret the Constitution according to its original meaning. Any court decision that does not follow this original meaning of the Constitution should be revisited. That is particularly true of decisions such as Roe vs. Wade, which have expanded the reach of the Federal government into areas of society never envisioned in the Constitution. With the overturning of Roe vs Wade, laws regarding abortion would be decided by the individual states.
Making abortion a state decision is also a goal of Americans United for Life.
Virginia Chamlee, reporter with The Florida Independent, contributed to this report.