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Roe v. Wade omitted from proclamation

Governor Mitt Romney removed a reference to Roe v. Wade in a proclamation he signed this week, raising eyebrows among abortion rights advocates who say the move corresponds with a rightward shift by Romney as he mulls a presidential bid.

Signed by Massachusetts governors since 1996, the annual proclamation establishes a ''Right to Privacy Day" to mark the anniversary of Baird v. Eisenstadt, a 1972 Supreme Court ruling legalizing birth control for unmarried people. The previous years' proclamations cited the historic Roe court decision that legalized abortion, saying that Baird v. Eisenstadt was ''a decision that was quoted six times in subsequent cases, including Roe v. Wade."

In this year's proclamation, which Romney signed this week, there is no reference to Roe v. Wade.

Romney's aides struggled with an explanation for the change Initially, spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom said workers in the governor's office flagged the Roe v. Wade language as part of a new effort to more carefully scrutinize the several hundred proclamations issued each year. He said the change was clerical, not political.

But after questioning by the Globe, Fehrnstrom acknowledged yesterday that senior staff members had discussed the issue and decided to remove the language. He maintained that the change was not politically motivated, but meant to remove ''extraneous" language from a document that was focused on another court decision.

Roe, the 1973 US Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in the United States, is a flashpoint for social conservatives.

The change in the Massachusetts proclamation has no practical effect, and leading abortion-rights advocates said they were not aware of it until a Globe reporter called them seeking their comment. But the abortion-rights advocates said the senior staff members' sudden concern about the Roe v. Wade reference fits a pattern of shifting language by Romney, who described himself as supporting the status quo on abortion when he ran for governor in 2002.

''We are very concerned about the direction that he's heading in, the change in style and rhetoric around a whole host of issues -- abortion is one of those, of course," said Erin Rowland, a spokeswoman for the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. ''He described himself as being in favor of the status quo when he ran for governor. A number of people used the term 'prochoice' to describe him."The change in wording was discovered by Bill Baird, the plaintiff in Eisenstadt v. Baird. Baird was arrested for displaying birth control devices and giving a package of contraceptive foam to an unmarried female student at Boston University in 1967; he appealed the case to the Supreme Court. He said he has little doubt that Romney's removal of the Roe v. Wade language was politically motivated.

''Why would he take it out? He would take it out because he wanted to stay as far away from the abortion issue as he could," Baird said.

On a questionnaire Planned Parenthood gave to the gubernatorial candidates in 2002, Romney answered ''yes" to the question, ''Do you support the substance of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade?" Romney also professed support for state funding of abortion services for low-income women, Rowland said.

In recent weeks, however, Romney has played up his personal opposition to abortion as he has delivered political speeches out of state. Earlier this month he tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade the Legislature to use a $740,000 federal sex education grant to teach abstinence in schools, rather than continue the current practice of spending it on television commercials and ads on subways and buses. Social conservatives back abstinence-only curriculums, which abortion rights advocates say tend to overemphasize the failure rates of condoms and other birth control devices.

In the 2002 questionnaire, Romney said he supported ''the teaching of responsible, age-appropriate, factually accurate health and sexuality education, including information about both abstinence and contraception" in public schools, Rowland said.

''He's basically chosen to promote abstinence-only education programs in our schools, despite the fact that during his campaign for governor he said he supported comprehensive programs," said Melissa Kogut, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts. ''That, coupled with his recent statements outside of the state calling himself 'prolife,' raises serious concerns about his commitment to reproductive freedom."

Fehrnstrom said the governor's position has not changed on either sex education or abortion. He said Romney supports ''comprehensive sex education with an emphasis on abstinence as the safest and healthiest choice for our young people," and that the criticism from Planned Parenthood and NARAL is politically motivated.

''NARAL and Planned Parenthood are the same groups that in the last campaign accused Mitt Romney of being prolife and endorsed his opponents. Now they want us to believe that Mitt Romney was secretly prochoice all along and that he's somehow changed his position," he said.

His ''position on abortion is the same today as it was during the 2002 governor's campaign. The governor is personally opposed to abortion, supports parental consent laws, and he is in favor of the ban on partial-birth abortion," Fehrnstrom said. ''He also said he would not change the status quo on abortion in Massachusetts, and neither add nor subtract from those laws, and he hasn't."

Marie Sturgis, legislative director of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, said she hasn't detected any change in Romney stance. The group considers Romney to be an abortion-rights supporter, as do national antiabortion groups such as the Family Research Council.

Scott Greenberger can be reached at greenberger@globe.com.


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