Anti-abortion groups are thoroughly convinced Mitt Romney is still one of them, despite his remarks Tuesday in Iowa that abortion would not be a part of his legislative agenda if elected.
“No alarm bells here,” Tony Perkins, president of the anti-abortion Family Research Council, told TPM on Wednesday.
Perkins said the Romney campaign called him soon after Romney’s remarks were published by the Des Moines Register and assured him it didn’t represent a shift by Romney from his support for pro-life issues.
“As they explained it to me, it was from the way the question was asked,” Perkins said of Romney’s quote. He said the campaign told him the interviewer was “talking about economic issues” when the quote came up.
David O’Sheen, executive director of the National Right To Life Committee, also told TPM the phrasing of the Des Moines Register question was responsible for Romney’s quote, not a change in Romney’s policy.
“The way that question was phrased it sounded like they were talking about legislation that only dealt with abortion,” he said. “We won’t know our own legislative agenda until we see the makeup of Congress. And when I looked at the question, I wasn’t concerned at all with his response.”
Other anti-abortion leaders on Wednesday chalked up Romney’s remarks as yet another foot-in-mouth moment from the Republican presidential nominee or as simply a case of getting caught off guard punting on a topic he doesn’t discuss much.
“This is clearly not a good moment on this issue [for Romney.] It’s a hiccup,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, told TPM.
But none of the groups reached by TPM were alarmed by the remarks or treating them as a betrayal of their cause.
“We wouldn’t have endorsed him if I didn’t truly believe he’s truly pro-life and has that conviction,” Dannenfelser added.
But for Dannenfelser and others Romney’s less than elegant comments still stood him in far better stead than Obama.
“I think it helps to have the same degree of scrutiny about the president’s position in areas that are difficult for him,” Dannenfelser told TPM. “But the president really has something far more important to examine and that’s his positions that are truly extreme and out of step with 95% of the Senate on the ‘Born Alive Infant Protection Act,’ for instance.”
Perkins said he’s in regular contact with the Romney campaign and said he’s completely confident Romney is as pro-life as ever. He said the Romney campaign told him that Romney still supports HR 3, a 2011 House bill aimed at making permanent the Hyde Amendment budget rider providing for a ban on on federal abortion funding. The bill became famous for its original text, which changed the exemption for rape to an exception for “forcible rape” only. Perkins said the Romney campaign also told said he still favors the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” which he promised to “advocate for and support” in his 2011 National Review op-ed.
The Romney camp offered similar assurances publicly, promising that a President Romney would “of course support legislation aimed at providing greater protections for life,” and telling the press Romney remains “proudly pro-life.”
The Romney campaign did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Democrats and abortion rights activists, on the other hand, saw Romney’s line to the Register as at best a flip-flop, and at worst an outright lie.
“He is trying to close the deal, I would imagine, just like he did in the boardroom when he was with Bain Capital,” Stephanie Cutter, deputy campaign manager for President Obama, told reporters on a conference call Wednesday. “Romney has been dishonest about his plan on issue after issue. His dishonesty on abortion is only one example.”
Planned Parenthood called Romney’s abortion quote in the Register “misleading.”
But anti-abortion activists aren’t upset. They’re not even worried.
“One area I am totally convinced of when it comes to Mitt Romney and his social policies, it’s his commitment to life,” Perkins said.
This post has been updated with comments from O’Sheen.