The Boston Catholic Insider responds with overwhelming force to Romney's claim that he stood up for the conscience laws protecting Catholic churches until the lawyers forced his hand.
The debate soundbite:
KING: ...Governor Romney, both Senator Santorum and Speaker Gingrich have said during your tenure as governor, you required Catholic hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape victims.
And Mr. Speaker, you compared the president to President Obama, saying he infringed on Catholics' rights.
Governor, did you do that?
ROMNEY: No, absolutely not. Of course not.
There was no requirement in Massachusetts for the Catholic Church to provide morning-after pills to rape victims. That was entirely voluntary on their report. There was no such requirement....
Newt Gingrich was given a quick follow-up:
KING: Mr. Speaker?
GINGRICH: Well, the reports we got were quite clear that the public health department was prepared to give a waiver to Catholic hospitals about a morning-after abortion pill, and that the governor's office issued explicit instructions saying that they believed it wasn't possible under Massachusetts law to give them that waiver. Now, that was the newspaper reports that came out. That's something that both Senator Santorum and I have raised before.
That report was surely this Boston Globe article from Dec 9, 2005 which describes the apparent Romney flip-flop as follows:
Governor Mitt Romney reversed course on the state's new emergency contraception law yesterday, saying that all hospitals in the state will be obligated to provide the morning-after pill to rape victims.
The decision overturns a ruling made public this week by the state Department of Public Health that privately run hospitals could opt out of the requirement if they objected on moral or religious grounds.
Romney had initially supported that interpretation, but he said yesterday that he had changed direction after his legal counsel, Mark D. Nielsen, concluded Wednesday that the new law supersedes a preexisting statute that says private hospitals cannot be forced to provide abortions or contraception.
''And on that basis, I have instructed the Department of Public Health to follow the conclusion of my own legal counsel and to adopt that sounder view," Romney said at the State House after signing a bill on capital gains taxes.
Hey, the lawyers made him do it, waddya gona do? But the BCI documents a compelling case that the law had been deliberately left open as part of a legislative compromise.
Briefly, Massachusetts had a 1975 'conscience law' allowing hospitals to opt out of abortion, sterilization, and contraception.
In 2004 the Massachusetts legislature worked on a bill that would have forced hospitals to provide emergency contraception to rape victims with no conscience exemption. The Senate passed this bill, which died in the House.
In 2005 the legislature tried again. The Senate included an amendment expressly eliminating the conscience protection of the 1975 law; the House had an amendment explicitly endorsing it. The final compromise dropped both amendments, which the Catholic legal strategists viewed as acceptable, per this newsletter; the thinking (or at least,the in-house spin) was that since the new law was silent the 1975 law would remain in force.
Well - I am not a lawyer, but it doesn't appear that Romney pressed his legal team to defend that perspective. What would he do as President? Geez, Obama shopped all over Washington until he found someone to tell him that he could ignore the War Powers Act becasue the kinetic action in Libya wasn't a war. Why didn't Romney apply his Harvard JD and get the answers he now claims he wanted?