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C. Eugene Emery Jr.
By C. Eugene Emery Jr. January 19, 2012

Rhode Island Democratic party says Republican Brendan Doherty flip-flopped on abortion in a little over a week

Opponents of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney have gained some traction by criticizing the former Massachusetts governor for flip-flopping on the abortion issue. So it shouldn't have been surprising that the Rhode Island Democratic Party would try to use the same tactic against Brendan Doherty, the Republican running for Congress in the 1st District against Democratic Rep. David Cicilline.

In a Jan. 11, 2012, news release about Doherty stumping for Romney in New Hampshire, the Democratic party's executive director, Stephanie DeSilva, contends, "Romney and Doherty certainly have a lot in common, like flip-flopping on abortion -- in Doherty's case, in a little over a week."

PolitiFact has already addressed the issue of whether Romney flip-flopped on abortion and found that it was True. For this item, we will look at Doherty's stance.

The news release from DeSilva doesn't say how Doherty's opinion has changed, only that it has.

So we e-mailed DeSilva. She responded that the information came from a June 1, 2011, web page on headlined, "Doherty Shifts Abortion Stance."

"Just weeks after announcing his run for Congress, former State Police Supt. Brendan Doherty is already apparently changing his position on a key issue -- abortion," the story said.

GoLocalProv found that a May 31 position statement on was different from what had appeared eight days earlier.

And what was the change?

GoLocalProv says that the website said on May 23: "Abortion - As always, I support the decision of the United States Supreme Court who [sic] has determined that abortions are a legal right. I am, however, personally pro-life."

On May 31, GoLocalProv said, the statement had been changed to: "Abortion - I am pro-life." That's also what we saw when we checked Doherty's site on Jan. 12, 2012.

How significant is the rewording?

We realize that the terms "pro-life" or "pro-choice" mean different things to different people. Some who call themselves pro-life reluctantly support abortion in cases of rape, incest or a threat to the mother's life. Some who call themselves pro-choice would never choose to have an abortion themselves or are opposed to partial birth abortion.

But few people who are staunch opponents of abortion rights would express any degree of support for the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that abortions are a legal right. To them, the original language on Doherty's website would sound like double-speak.

When we contacted the Doherty campaign to talk to the candidate about the nuances -- if any -- about his abortion stand, we were told he was not available.

"The original language was found to be confusing to some people and was adjusted to clarify Brendan's position," said his political director, Robert Coupe. "The website has stated consistently and accurately Brendan's position that he is pro-life."

So why did he express support for the Supreme Court's ruling legalizing abortion?

"The original statement expressed Brendan's intent to abide by Supreme Court decisions on the issue," Coupe said. "Throughout his career in law enforcement, Brendan [a former head of the Rhode Island State Police] had pledged to uphold the Constitution, which meant abiding by various Supreme Court rulings and I believe that perspective accounts for the 'as always' introductory phrase."

To get a better idea where Doherty stands, we e-mailed the campaign to ask, if elected to Congress, would Doherty work to have the Supreme Court overturn Roe vs. Wade. Coupe's response: "Brendan will remain consistent in his pro-life position."

So where Doherty falls on the abortion spectrum -- whether he supports filing attempted murder charges against women who seek an abortion, whether he would endorse abortion in some cases, or whether he thinks the question has been settled -- remains a mystery because his campaign won't discuss specifics.

Our ruling

Stephanie DeSilva, executive director of the Rhode Island Democratic Party, said Doherty changed his position on abortion in a little over a week.

It is true that a change was made to the phrasing on his website.

His campaign removed an ambiguous statement that could be read as supporting the Supreme Court’s decision legalizing abortion. His spokesman said that wasn’t the statement’s intent -- but then refused to answer whether Doherty would work to overturn Roe vs. Wade.

On the other hand, Doherty clearly said he was "pro-life," in both versions,  even if the Supreme Court reference would make staunch abortion opponents wary.

Because her statement "is partially accurate but leaves out important details," we rule it Half True.

(Get updates from PolitiFactRI on Twitter. To comment or offer your ruling, visit us on our PolitiFact Rhode Island Facebook page.)

Featured Fact-check

Our Sources

News release, "In NH Primary, Like in Iowa, Romney Loses Middle Class, Independents; Here at Home, Romney-Campaigner Doherty's economic plans are astonishingly even more out-of-touch than Romney’s," Rhode Island Democratic Party, Jan. 11, 2012, "DNC ad says Mitt Romney flip-flopped on abortion," Nov. 28, 2011

E-mails, Stephanie DeSilva, executive director, Rhode Island Democratic Party, Jan. 11-13, 2012, "Doherty Shifts Abortion Stance," June 1, 2011, accessed Jan. 12, 2012, "Issues and Press," accessed Jan. 12, 2012

Interview and e-mails, Robert Coupe, political director, Doherty for Congress, Jan. 12-13, 2012

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Rhode Island Democratic party says Republican Brendan Doherty flip-flopped on abortion in a little over a week

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