Mitt Romney is blanketing swing states with commercials embracing a more moderate stance on reproductive health issues than we’ve come to expect from the governor in the months since his Republican primary campaign. His central argument for “moderation” is that he would not support banning all abortions—instead, he would make an exception for cases of rape, incest or abortions necessary to save the life of the woman. He has also floated the idea of permitting abortions in the case of a threat to the health of the woman, but has since walked this back.
If Todd Akin and Rick Santorum set the standards for Republican discourse, then indeed Romney holds a more moderate and civil stance. But the contrast here merely indicates how far the legal and culture-war goalposts have moved. Romney does not hold a moderate position based on the history of reproductive rights in America, nor is his position moderate based on what is actually happening across America when women confront unintended or medically challenged pregnancies.
Under the Hyde Amendment, the federal government restricts Medicaid funding of abortion to cases of life endangerment, rape and incest. In fiscal year 2010, only 331 abortions across the nation were financed through this mechanism. Moreover, pregnancies involving difficult challenges to the physical health of pregnant women or to fetal health—though wrenching and important to consider for so many reasons—account for a small fraction of abortions performed in the United States.
In 2004, a group of reproductive health researchers surveyed women patients at eleven large abortion providers. These numbers are hardly perfect. The sampling methodology didn’t capture important groups such as pregnant women in distress who present for emergency care. There are also questions about how candid women actually are in reporting the non-voluntary circumstances of sexual acts that result in unintended pregnancies. Still, these data provide a solid basis for public debate.
Only about 7 percent of interviewed women identified maternal or fetal physical health problems as the most important reason to terminate their pregnancies. Less than one percent reported pregnancy as the result of rape or incest.
Based on these data, more than 90 percent of abortions—possibly many more—would be illegal under the standard Governor Romney sets forth for federal and state policy.
And take into account that Romney has pledged to appoint Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe vs. Wade. His party platform supports state laws that impose mandatory waiting periods, restrictive clinic regulations, a human life amendment, and other measures designed to hinder abortion access and to hinder providers’ efforts to dispense these services.