TAMPA, Fla. — Attempting once again to deflect questions about abortion rights raised in the wake of Todd Akin and the draft GOP platform, Mitt Romney suggested to CBS News Monday that abortion rights are mostly outside the president’s purview.
Abortion rights advocates are scratching their heads at that one.
“Recognize this is the decision that will be made by the Supreme Court,” Romney told CBS. “The Democrats try and make this a political issue every four years, but this is a matter in the courts. It’s been settled for some time in the courts.”
Romney also reaffirmed his view that abortion should be legal in the case of rape, incest and when the health of the mother is at stake, a view that puts him to the left of his party’s platform (which is silent on any exceptions to an abortion ban) and his running mate (who opposes all abortion except in some cases where the mother’s health is on the line).
Romney is anxious to change the subject, though (he acknowledged on Sunday that the Akin fallout has hurt the GOP’s standing among women), and told CBS that the idea that abortion is on the ballot this fall is a straw man thrown up by his political opponents.
Abortion rights advocates say the idea that the president has no power over abortion issues is an attempt by Romney to sweep an uncomfortable political issue under the rug.
“For Mitt Romney not to know is either disingenuous or flat-out stupid,” said Beth Shipp, policy director at NARAL. “I can’t decide which one he’s trying to be at this point because lord knows he’s been all over the map on our issue, and every other issue.”
NARAL prepared a document at the start of the cycle that details what a president can do about abortion access. One example is the so-called “global gag rule,” which denies federal funding to family planning groups that work with abortion services around the world. President George W. Bush reinstated the rule within days of being sworn in; President Obama eliminated it days after his inauguration.
Romney has specifically called for reinstating gag orders for family planning providers that receive U.S. government support, and would support new laws aimed at making abortions harder to perform.
There are simpler explanations of how a president would affect abortion policy: The next president will likely nominate more than one Supreme Court justice, which means he has the chance to tip the balance on the court in favor of maintaining Roe v. Wade, or in favor of rolling back the landmark Court decision making abortion legal. Though he told CBS Monday that abortion law has “been settled for some time in the courts, “Romney has said he wants to see Roe v. Wade overturned.
“Most importantly, I will only appoint judges who adhere to the Constitution and the laws as they are written,” Romney wrote in a National Review op-ed called “My Pro-Life Pledge,” “not as they want them to be written.”