As the presidential campaign swirls around a war for the allegiance of American women, the Obama campaign is relying on an explosive — and highly questionable — charge to draw pro-choice women into the President's camp: That Mitt Romney would "outlaw abortion" if elected.
The claim first surfaced in a document posted to the campaign's website Wednesday titled, "5 Things You Need To Know About Mitt Romney." The last bullet point — which has been retweeted by Barack Obama and his campaign staffers over the past 24 hours— says, "He'd get rid of Planned Parenthood and outlaw abortion."
A review of the Republican's conflicted abortion record reveals that claim to be a stretch, at best. While Romney has undergone a long, public evolution on this issue over the past two decades — straining, at times, to defend his pro-life credentials to suspicious conservatives — he's never called for an outright federal ban on all abortions.
Rather, Romney's current position advocates overturning Roe v. Wade and allowing states to make their own abortion laws. He has also supported ending federal funding for Planned Parenthood — tough positions to sell in the general election, perhaps, but nowhere near the Obama campaign's characterization.
A Romney aide, evidently unwilling to be drawn into a confrontation on the Democratic turf of abortion rights, declined to comment on whether Romney would "outlaw abortion," but said he wants to end federal funding for Planned Parenthood, not to "get rid of" the group itself.
But when asked whether whether they believe Romney is seeking to outlaw abortion, even the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List demurred.
"Mitt Romney has made clear that he supports a reversal of Roe v. Wade and looks forward to legislatures once again having the ability to limit abortion by law," said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List. "He supports federal action now to end funding for Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider, and any similar organization that performs abortion or offers abortion-related services."
Responding to requests for evidence to back up its claim, a senior Obama aide directed BuzzFeed to a moment in a 2007 CNN Republican primary debate, during which moderator Anderson Cooper posed a hypothetical question to the candidates: If Roe v. Wade were overturned and Congress passed a federal abortion ban, would you sign it?
Romney responded characteristically, attaching a condition before taking the plunge. He said he "would be delighted to sign that bill" — if there were a national consensus on the issue.
"But that's not where we are," he continued, pivoting back to his own platform. "That's not where America is. Where America is is ready to overturn Roe v. Wade and return to the states that authority."
The 2007 clip was as close to a smoking gun as the Obama campaign could muster to support its claim that he would "outlaw abortion" — and, indeed, it likely won't help Romney as he seeks to close the gender gap with the Democratic incumbent. But it hardly proves that Romney is seeking an abortion ban, much less that abortion will actually be outlawed if he's elected, as the Democratic campaign suggests.
An Obama spokeswoman, however, did not back down on the charge, however, in an email exchange.
“Since running for president, Mitt Romney has been consistently extreme in his opposition to a woman’s right to choose. He’s said he would overturn Roe v. Wade, endorsed a state ‘personhood’ amendment that would not only outlaw abortion, but also many forms of contraception, and even said that he would be ‘delighted’ to sign a bill banning all abortions," the spokeswoman, Lis Smith, said.
In fact, Romney has spent his anti-abortion career refusing to endorse the most prominent actual plan to "outlaw" abortion: The Human Life Amendment, which would ban abortion federally, and which Rick Santorum spearheaded in Congress in 2004. He has repeatedly denied invitations from groups supporting the Amendment.
Instead, Romney spokeswoman Gail Gitcho said last year that he supports a watered-down version of the amendment that "overturns Roe v. Wade and sends the issue back to the states" — a far cry from the legislation for which Santorum crusaded, and which the Obama campaign is now trying to pin on Romney.
"Mitt Romney is pro-life, and as he has said previously, he is supportive of efforts to ensure recognition that life begins at conception," Gitcho continued, in a characteristically hazy defense of vague Romney comments in support of a hypothetical Massachusetts law resembling the "personhood" legislation."
"He believes these matters should be left up to states to decide," she said.
In 2007 Romney did however tell Good Morning America he would support a Human Life Amendment on the Republican platform, but that stance appeared to be isolated to single interview and this cycle he has steered clear of such rhetoric.
But while Obama's attack may not be an entirely accurate reflection of Romney's position, it does offer a glimpse at the mindset at Obama HQ. After watching a parade of culture warriors and condom-condemners make their mark on the Republican Primary, Chicago is now dealing with the reality that the most moderate of the bunch has emerged as their opponent.
The fact that they are already twisting his words to land their punches signals that Romney may be tougher to beat on these issues than they expected.