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Did Mitt Romney make taxpayer-funded abortion the law of the land in Massachusetts?
That’s one claim in an attack ad put out by Newt Gingrich’s campaign, which says Romney called himself "pro-life" but "governed pro-abortion."
"Romney signed government-mandated health care with taxpayer funded abortions," the ad says, as a downcast Romney appears onscreen, along with his signature.
This is a claim that’s sure to be repeated, so we decided to look into it.
What’s in the law?
First, what’s not in the law: the word "abortion."
The sweeping health care legislation Romney signed on April 12, 2006, aimed to extend health insurance coverage to nearly every Massachusetts resident. It included an individual mandate, requiring almost all Massachusetts residents to get insurance, leading to an insured rate of nearly 98 percent in the state.
It required people who don't have health insurance to buy it or lose their individual state tax exemptions. To cover low-income people, private insurance companies developed low-cost plans that residents could buy through a new state-run insurance exchange called the Health Connector.
But the law doesn’t address what is covered and what isn’t. Search the text of it, and "abortion" is nowhere to be found.
"It doesn’t say in the law what is covered or not. It talks about health care and funding health care," said Anne Fox, president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, which opposes abortion.
Yes, abortion is covered
A 1981 Supreme Judicial Court ruling in Massachusetts said that the cost of abortions had to be included in publicly subsidized plans.
Most private insurance plans in the U.S. include abortion coverage, and the state-subsidized plans in Massachusetts do, too. So when the Health Connector began, abortion coverage was automatically included.
In some of the low-cost plans, abortions are covered with a $50 co-pay.
So Gingrich’s ad is right that some abortions in Massachusetts are "taxpayer-funded." But that requirement long predated the law Romney signed.
"That was already a given," Fox said. "Anything that’s paid for with tax money, like Medicaid, covered abortions."
Her group was part of an effort to overturn that requirement with a constitutional amendment, but it failed.
"The combination of the court order and state-controlled health care means Romney really wasn’t involved in funding these abortions. It was automatic, and there would be no way to stop it," Fox said. "We tried. It would have to be a constitutional amendment. It would not be something somebody could just veto."
Fox’s assessment lines up with that of an abortion-rights group we contacted:
"NARAL Pro-Choice America’s position is that the Massachusetts health care plan enacted during former Gov. Romney’s tenure expanded on a system that already covered abortion. Thus, Romney should not get credit for improving women's access to abortion in Massachusetts," spokesman Ted Miller said in an email.
Gingrich’s ad says "Romney signed government-mandated health care with taxpayer-funded abortions."
What’s right about that? Romney did sign government-mandated health care, and Massachusetts does provide taxpayer-funded abortions. But the ad inaccurately links the two together. The law Romney signed did not mention abortion coverage. It was included by the state exchange, which created plans that mirror private insurance nationwide. And a court decision two decades earlier mandated that the cost of the abortions be included. You’d never know any of that based on the misleading wording in the ad. We rate it Mostly False.
YouTube.com, "Changed?" Jan. 10, 2012
YouTube.com, "Rebellion," Jan. 18, 2012
Chapter 58 of the Acts of 2006, Massachusetts General Court, accessed Jan. 16, 2012
Health Connector, health insurance website for Massachusetts residents, accessed Jan. 16, 2012
Commonwealth Care benefits price sheet, accessed Jan. 16, 2012
Interview with Anne Fox, president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, Jan. 19, 2012
E-mail interview with Ted Miller, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Jan. 19, 2012
Boston Globe, "Health law adds coverage red tape," March 24, 2010, accessed via Nexis
Detroit Free-Press, "Massachusetts to require health insurance, " April 13, 2006, accessed via Nexis
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