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Abortion foes target Romney’s law

Group aims to undo universal health care

Mitt Romney has said his law is a state solution to a state problem. Mitt Romney has said his law is a state solution to a state problem.
By Michael Levenson
Globe Staff / August 3, 2011

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Mitt Romney, who has struggled to persuade some social conservatives that he is a committed opponent of abortion rights, could face a new headache from his home state’s leading antiabortion group, which is launching a ballot campaign to repeal the universal health care law that he signed in 2006.

Anne Fox, president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, said yesterday that repealing the law is a “prolife’’ issue because the law could lead to what she said would be the rationing of prenatal care and other medical services.

“The way it’s constituted, they’re going to have to deny care,’’ Fox, standing with two members of the Citizens for Life board, told reporters outside the State House. “It could be care to the unborn, care to pregnant women, care to someone with disabilities, but they’re going to be denying care, and that’s the prolife concern.’’

If she succeeds in placing the question on the 2012 ballot, her campaign could complicate Romney’s efforts to persuade Republican primary voters that he is solidly aligned with activists who oppose abortion. Romney ran as an abortion rights supporter during his 1994 US Senate campaign and 2002 campaign for Massachusetts governor. But he changed positions in 2004, as he geared up for his 2008 presidential campaign.

Romney has walked a fine line on the health care issue, as well, defending his law as a state solution to a state problem, while calling for a repeal of the national law, which he has denounced as a power grab.

It is highly unusual for a group that opposes abortion rights to challenge a Republican presidential candidate who embraces its cause. But some abortion opponents have questioned the sincerity of Romney’s beliefs.

During the 2008 Republican primary, for example, antiabortion activists protested outside several of his campaign appearances, while another candidate, Senator Sam Brownback of Kansas attacked Romney’s shift on abortion.

Fox said her group is not trying to undercut Romney’s presidential campaign, merely one of the laws he signed.

“I have no problem with Mitt Romney,’’ she said. “If he is the nominee, we will back him to the hilt.’’

Even so, Citizens for Life, which is the state affiliate of the National Right to Life Committee, had a statement on its website yesterday, blasting the state law in much starker terms.

“RomneyCare covers abortions, and the mandate forces citizens to participate in a system which strives to make the murder of unborn children as cheap as $50,’’ the statement said. “There are, however, many more ways which this requirement offends against both the sanctity of human life, principles of ethical medicine and simple common sense.’’

Yesterday, Citizens for Life removed the statement from its website and immediately began distancing itself from that line of attack, after being contacted by Peter Flaherty, Romney’s liaison to social conservatives. Fox blamed the statement on a staff member at Citizens for Life, and said it did not reflect the group’s views.

“I was extremely upset,’’ she said. “He has removed it. I thought, ‘Where did this come from, because it had my name on it, and I never wrote it.’ ’’

The ballot question could repeal the mandate that requires all residents to have health insurance. That mandate is also the backbone of the national health care law that President Obama signed last year. Fox’s group opposed that law, as well, by running Internet and radio ads.

She said her organization is beginning to gather signatures and will launch a website, www.repeal-romneycare.com, in hope of placing the issue on the ballot in November 2012, when Romney hopes to be the Republican presidential nominee. To do so, Citizens for Life will need to gather 68,911 signatures by November and another 11,485 signatures by June.

Fox declined to discuss her budget, but said she would seek support from the group’s 200,000 members.

Romney’s spokeswoman, Andrea Saul, released a statement about the ballot campaign, saying: “Governor Romney shares with [Massachusetts] Citizens for Life a commitment to protecting human life. However, he signed the health care bill into law because he believes it was right for Massachusetts, and he continues to support it.’’

The referendum, even if it reaches the ballot, could face steep odds. In June, a poll by the Harvard School of Public Health and the Globe found that 63 percent of Massachusetts residents support the law, up 10 percentage points in the past two years. Only 21 percent said they were against the law. The state law has also had broad support from the state’s major business, labor, and advocacy organizations.

“We don’t see it having much chance of success,’’ said Brian Rosman, research director of Health Care for All, a group that supports universal health coverage. He said that, contrary to Fox’s assertion, the law has not rationed care. He pointed out that about 400,000 more people have obtained health insurance since the law was signed.

“Health care is rationed in the US by income, and what health reform did in Massachusetts is provide low-income people an opportunity to get affordable coverage, and the results have been dramatic in terms of improved health, more access to preventive care, and more people able to get health care services,’’ he said. “The public is benefiting dramatically.’’

Michael Levenson can be reached at mlevenson@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @mlevenson.