Get PolitiFact in your inbox.

PolitiFact's guide to Mitt Romney and abortion
Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg October 19, 2012
Molly Moorhead
By Molly Moorhead October 19, 2012

Someone watching the latest ads about Mitt Romney's position on abortion could rightly feel confused.

On the one hand, an ad from the Romney campaign features a mother going online to research where Romney stands.

"Those ads saying Mitt Romney would ban all abortions and contraception seemed a bit extreme," she says. "So I looked into it. Turns out, Romney doesn’t oppose contraception at all. In fact, he thinks abortion should be an option, in cases of rape and incest or to save a mother’s life."

The Obama campaign responded with an ad showing Romney being asked in a debate if he would approve a federal ban on all abortions?

"I’d be delighted to sign that bill," says an enthusiastic Romney.

The ad’s final line: "Women need to know the real Mitt Romney."

But what is "the real Mitt Romney" on abortion? He has made various statements about abortion, even after his well-documented change on the issue.

To help you sort out the claims and attacks about his position on abortion, here are his most significant comments:

He used to be pro-choice
In a debate during his 1994 race against Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy, Romney said, "I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country." Referring to the 1973 Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in every state, Romney added, "I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years, it should be sustained and supported. And I sustain and support that law and support the right of a woman to make that choice."
In his 2002 campaign for governor, Romney said during a debate, "I will preserve and protect a woman's right to choose and am devoted and dedicated to honoring my word in that regard."
'I am pro-life'

In June, 2011, Romney published his position on abortion in the National Review, a widely read conservative magazine. He wrote:  

•   "I am pro-life and believe that abortion should be limited to only instances of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. I support the reversal of Roe vs. Wade, because it is bad law and bad medicine."

•  "I support the Hyde Amendment, which broadly bars the use of federal funds for abortions."

•  "I will advocate for and support a Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act to protect unborn children who are capable of feeling pain from abortion."

•  "I will only appoint judges who adhere to the Constitution and the laws as they are written, not as they want them to be written."

•  "I will support efforts to prohibit federal funding for any organization like Planned Parenthood."

'Delighted to sign that bill'

In a televised debate, Romney was asked "If Roe vs. Wade was overturned and Congress passed a federal ban on all abortions and it came to your desk, would you sign it, yes or no?"

"I would welcome a circumstance where there was such a consensus in this country that we said, we don't want to have abortion in this country at all, period," Romney said. "That would be wonderful. I'd be delighted."

The moderator pressed Romney and asked if he would sign such a bill.

"Let me say it. I'd be delighted to sign that bill," Romney said. "But that's not where we are. That's not where America is today. Where America is is ready to overturn Roe vs. Wade and return to the states that authority. But if the Congress got there, we had that kind of consensus in that country, terrific."

On life beginning at conception

In an interview with former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee on Fox television, Huckabee asked Romney about a Massachusetts law that helped cover the costs of abortion. Romney said it would take a state constitutional amendment to change that, so Huckabee asked, "Would you have supported a constitutional amendment that would have established the definition of life as conception?"

Romney replied, "Absolutely."

But take note: Huckabee did not use the word "personhood." Thinking that he did is a common misperception. Legally, to say that something is alive does not equal saying that it enjoys the rights of a person.

On the Mississippi personhood initiative

Unlike most of his Republican primary rivals, Romney never endorsed the Mississippi "personhood" ballot measure, which would have treated a fertilized egg as a person entitled to full legal protections. Claiming a scheduling conflict, he did not participate in the "personhood" candidate forums in Iowa, South Carolina and Florida sponsored by Personhood USA.

On the Human Life Amendment

In 2004, 2008,and 2012, the Republican Party platform backed the "human life amendment," which asserts that legal personhood begins at conception -- and with that comes full constitutional protections. Romney’s team took part in writing the 2012 platform.

In 2007, Romney said on ABC’s Good Morning America "‘You know, I do support the Republican platform, and I support that being part of the Republican platform and I’m pro-life.’"

Although Democrats and abortion-rights groups have drawn inferences that this means Romney would oppose all abortions with no exceptions, support for the amendment does not necessarily equate to opposing abortion when pregnancy is due to rape or incest.

The National Committee for a Human Life Amendment, a Washington-based advocacy group, has compiled the congressional bills in favor of an amendment dating back to 1973. Some of those bills have no exceptions for rape and incest. However, the most recent versions do.

In  2005, Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo, introduced H.J. Res 4 which held that "no unborn person shall be deprived of life." However, the bill adds "nothing in this article shall prohibit a law permitting only those medical procedures required to prevent the death of the mother of an unborn person: Provided further, that nothing in this article shall limit the liberty of a mother with respect to the unborn offspring of the mother conceived as a result  of rape or incest."

'That's not my position'

In an interview with the Des Moines Register editorial board on Oct. 9, 2012, Romney talked about an Obama campaign ad that he said distorts his position on abortion.

"There’s an ad... which says that I’m opposed to abortion even in cases of rape and incest and when the life of the mother is at risk. Well that’s not true. That’s not my position," he said.

A board member then followed up with the question, "Do you intend to pursue any legislation specifically regarding abortion?"

"There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda," he said, before re-affirming his intent to reinstate President George W. Bush's Mexico City policy, which denies federal money to health groups working overseas that counsel women about abortion.

The remark about legislation drew criticism from both sides. Conservatives accused him of softening his commitment to banning abortion; Democrats said he was hiding his real views to earn women’s votes.

The next day, Romney had this to say:

"I think I’ve said time and again that I’m a pro-life candidate and I’ll be a pro-life president," Romney told reporters in Ohio. "The actions I’ll take immediately is to remove funding for Planned Parenthood. It will not be part of my budget. And also I’ve indicated that I will reverse the Mexico City position of the president. I will reinstate the Mexico City policy which keeps us from using foreign aid for abortions overseas."

Eliminating federal money for Planned Parenthood

Romney has said on many occasions that he would eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood.

This goes beyond the foreign dollars covered in the Mexico City policy. Planned Parenthood also receives millions in federal money every year, in the form of grants and reimbursements for the health services its provides. None of the federal money pays for abortions, but opponents say the federal support frees up other funds to pay for the procedures.

On his website, he says he would eliminate $300 million for  "family planning programs that benefit abortion groups like Planned Parenthood." He said it in a letter to voters that was published in Life News, a self-described pro-life news service, as well as in an interview with a Missouri television reporter.

On mandatory coverage for contraception

Romney opposes requiring contraceptive coverage in employer-provided health plans. In the second presidential debate, he said "I don't believe that bureaucrats in Washington should tell someone whether they can use contraceptives or not. And I don't believe employers should tell someone whether they could have contraceptive care of not. Every woman in America should have access to contraceptives."

Romney supported an amendment that would allow broad exemptions from any requirement., a conservative news service, seeking clarity, put the question directly to the Romney campaign.

"Will Mitt Romney, on day one, rescind this mandate in its entirety — as the Catholic Church has urged the current administration to do — so that individuals, employers and insurers who have a ‘moral or religious objection to contraception or sterilization’ will not be forced to violate the tenets of their own faith or act against their consciences?"

Romney campaign spokesman Ryan Williams responded: "Yes. Gov. Romney would rescind the mandate in its entirety."

At an April meeting of the National Rifle Association, Romney reiterated his opposition to the present requirement in the health reform law.  He said, "As president, I will abolish it."

Sign Up For Our Weekly Newsletter

Our Sources

Obama for America, Seen, October 18, 2012

Romney for President, Romney new abortion spot, October 16, 2012

National Review, My Pro-Life Pledge, June 18, 2011

Fox, Huckabee, October 1, 2011

POLITICO, Romney campaign: Personhood a state call, November 9, 2011

NPR, Frontrunner Romney skips Personhood forum, January 19, 2012

Thinkprogress, Romney won’t say if he supports personhood amendments, November 21, 2011

CNN, Republican presidential debate transcript, November 28, 2007

ABC, Good Morning America, August 7, 2007

National Committee for a Human Life Amendment, Listing of Human Life Amendments 1973-2003

Government Printing Office, H.J. Res 4, 108th Congress, January 7, 2003

Republican National Committee, 2004 Republican Party Platform

Republican National Committee, 2008 Republican Party Platform

Associated Press, Romney clarifies his position on Blunt amendment,February 29, 2012, Romney says he’ll rescind contraception mandate, not just for religious institutions but everyone, February 3, 2012

KSDK, Mitt Romney:  Planned Parenthood, we’re going to get rid of that, March 14, 2012

Life News, Romney Lays Out Pro-Life Agenda, July 25, 2012

CBS News, Republicans approve platform with strict anti-abortion language, August 21, 2012

PolitiFact, "Facebook post compares elements of Romneycare, Obamacare," June 18, 2012
Romneycare on abortion

Mitt Romney interview with Des Moines Register, Oct. 9, 2012

PolitiFact, "Barack Obama says George W. Bush never sought to defund Planned Parenthood," Oct. 19, 2012

Washington Post, "Romney again promises to defund Planned Parenthood," Oct. 10. 2012

Chapter 58 of the Acts of 2006, Massachusetts General Court, accessed Jan. 16, 2012

PolitiFact, "Mitt Romney evolved significantly in his position on abortion," May 15, 2012

Roe v. Wade, U.S. Supreme Court decision, Jan. 22, 1973

Newsday, Second presidential debate transcript, October 16, 2012

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Jon Greenberg

PolitiFact's guide to Mitt Romney and abortion