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Gingrich, Romney Go At It Over Abortion

Jan 12, 2012 (Morning Edition)

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The latest abortion battle doesn't pit people on opposite sides of the issue against each other. Rather, it features two of the leading GOP candidates for president, each charging that the other is less than pure as the race heads to socially conservative South Carolina.

Both former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (well, a "superPAC" run by former Romney aides) now have ads attacking each other's abortion failings.

The anti-Gingrich ad, sponsored by the group Restore Our Future, notes that "as speaker, Gingrich even supported taxpayer funding of some abortions."

And the ad the Gingrich campaign is now running against Romney takes aim at some of the latter's actions while he was governor.

"Romney appointed a pro-abortion judge," the ad says, "expanded access to abortion pills, put Planned Parenthood on a state medical board, but failed to put a pro-life group on the same board. And Romney signed government-mandated health care with taxpayer-funded abortions."

Listening to the ads, you might think the candidates support abortion rights. But that's hardly the case, says Donna Crane of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

"The idea that either of these candidates is in any way remotely pro-choice would be laughable, if it weren't actually so dangerous for women," she said. "It really is preposterous."

We asked three different anti-abortion groups for their view of the Republican ad wars, but they all declined to get involved in the intraparty dispute.

Meanwhile, however, University of Pittsburgh law professor David Garrow says the main charge in the ad attacking Gingrich — that he supported taxpayer funding of some abortions — while "it's not factually false, it's wholly inaccurate."

Garrow says the problem is that the term "some abortions" is "knowingly avoiding the fact that the measure that Gingrich supported, sponsored by well-known anti-abortion, right-to-life Congressman Henry Hyde, would have had the effect of removing financial support from 97, 98, 99 percent of abortions."

Several other fact-checking organizations, including PolitiFact, have had similar complaints about the ad.

Meanwhile, Gingrich's ad blasting Romney is more complicated, because Romney, when he was running for governor, claimed to support abortion rights. It was during his term that he said he had changed his mind on the subject.

But even so, Romney can't be blamed — or take credit — for some of the things in the ad, says NARAL's Crane. For example, the charge about the Massachusetts health law providing taxpayer-funded abortions? Yes, the Massachusetts health program does pay for abortion, but so did the program it replaced. And that's largely because of a state Supreme Court ruling.

"So if the charge is does Massachusetts care for its low-income women, then, yes, guilty as charged," Crane said. "Massachusetts has a good policy in that regard. But it's not attributable one way or another to Mitt Romney."

The website Factcheck.org notes that the ad's reference to "abortion pills" is also misleading. It should, in fact, refer to the morning-after birth-control pill. And while Romney did sign one bill to make those pills more available, he also vetoed one that would have required their availability for rape victims.

Still, in the end, Pittsburgh law professor and abortion scholar Garrow thinks the ad might actually help Romney, should he, as expected, become the GOP nominee.

"To the extent that Mitt Romney is being attacked as a moderate, such criticism, I think, may well insulate him, if not help him, in regards to what's coming down the pike in a few months' time, in terms of attacks from the Obama campaign that he's dangerously conservative, especially dangerous on something like abortion or the courts," Garrow said.

So to the extent that Gingrich or other conservatives "are attacking Romney as a dangerous moderate, they may well be serving him in very good stead for the long run."

And that is, of course, exactly the opposite of what Romney's conservative opponents probably have in mind.

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