Breaking the administration's silence on emergency contraception, Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey said yesterday that she would push Governor Mitt Romney to sign a bill broadening access to the ''morning after" pill.
''I am a strong advocate for prochoice and I expect to bring that voice to the table when the governor and I and his other advisers sit down to discuss the bill," Healey said yesterday.
She refused to explicitly endorse the emergency contraception bill pending in the Legislature, saying she could not predict how it would appear when it emerged from a conference committee. However, she said, ''I would advocate for expanding access to emergency contraception generally."
Healey made her remarks at a particularly sensitive time for Romney, who has refused to take a stand on the bill as he considers a run for president in 2008, and it marks an unusually public stance for her.
Romney said this year that he is ''in a different place" on abortion and characterized himself as ''personally prolife," but has declined to elaborate. He declared abortion should be ''safe and legal" during his 1994 run for US Senate. In 2002, he said he would support the status quo on the state's abortion laws and indicated his support for emergency contraception. Abortion rights groups have since accused him of backpedaling to appeal to more conservative voters as he positions himself for a national campaign.
Yesterday, Healey defended Romney. ''He hasn't changed one bit from when we were running together for governor and lieutenant governor back in 2002," she said. But Healey acknowledged that they have different feelings on the issue. ''He has always said that he was personally prolife, and I've always said that I was personally prochoice," she said.
Healey has quietly kept up ties with abortion rights groups, even as Romney has emphasized his personal opposition to abortion. She is considering a run for governor if Romney decides not to run for reelection in 2006. Romney has told GOP strategists that he would support Healey's candidacy.
Abortion rights groups said yesterday they are looking to Healey to champion the emergency contraception bill in the administration.
''We obviously think that she is a big part of this administration, and we think that the actions of the administration really should reflect her thinking, as well," said Dianne Luby, president and chief executive of the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. She suggested that the decision on reproductive rights legislation could affect Healey in a campaign for governor. ''We'd have to judge her by her record," Luby said.
Likewise, a leading group that opposes abortion considers Healey a firm abortion rights supporter and was not surprised by her endorsement. ''There's plenty of evidence to tell us where she stands," said Marie Sturgis, executive director and legislative director of Massachusetts Citizens for Life. ''I would still like to dialogue with her and find out if there are some areas where we could agree."
Healey chairs the governor's Commission on Domestic Violence, which in May asked her to recommend that the governor support the emergency contraception bill, said Nancy Scannell, director of government affairs for Jane Doe Inc., the Massachusetts coalition against sexual assault and domestic violence.
In March, Healey spoke at a fund-raiser on Beacon Hill for WISH List, a national political action committee that raises money for female Republican abortion rights supporters. She stressed the need to recruit more Republican candidates in Massachusetts and to maintain abortion rights, said one attendee.
Healey picked up WISH List's endorsement in 2002 and was endorsed three times by the Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus, a state fund-raising organization that supports female candidates who back abortion rights. Healey, of Beverly, twice ran unsuccessfully for the Legislature before prevailing in the lieutenant governor's race.
She also served on the steering committee of the Massachusetts Women's Political Caucus in 2000.
NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts endorsed the Democratic ticket in 2002, but considered Healey a strong backer of abortion rights, said executive director Melissa Kogut. ''We would like to see her play an active role in moving the governor to support the emergency contraception bill," said Kogut. ''But the governor's position seems to be different from hers on the issue in general."
The Senate bill would require hospitals to provide morning-after pills to rape victims to prevent pregnancy and allow trained pharmacists to dispense the pills without prescriptions. The House added amendments that would require hospitals and pharmacists to report the distribution of the pill to the state or face a fine and allow private hospitals with religious opposition to refuse to distribute morning-after pills.
The governor's spokeswoman, Julie Teer, said recently that before signing a bill on emergency contraception, Romney would have to examine whether the bill would change existing abortion law; he had said during his campaign for governor that he would maintain the status quo.
Supporters say that scientific studies show the pill prevents pregnancies by stopping ovulation, fertilization, or implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterine wall, but that it is ineffective after an egg is firmly implanted and thus does not constitute abortion. They say that it will reduce the number of abortions by preventing unwanted pregnancies.
Opponents view the women as already pregnant and say that the pill causes a chemical abortion. They hope that the governor's recent effort to add language in a stem cell bill stating that life begins at conception indicates that Romney agrees with their interpretation. ''We would want him to support our position, which is that this is taking of human life and that life begins at conception," Sturgis said.
Healey said yesterday that Romney would keep his campaign pledges. ''I think the governor is a man of his word, and he's very careful to keep all of his promises that he made during the course of the election," she said. ''And on abortion, it's been extremely consistent, which is to say that he himself opposes it, but that during the time that he serves as governor, he has sworn that he will not change laws regarding abortion in the Commonwealth."
Asked if she thinks the emergency contraception bill allows a form of abortion, Healey said: ''I'm not going to put out any judgment on that, because it's a moot point for me. I'm prochoice, so however this form of emergency contraception is viewed, I would still favor its availability."
Some advocates speculated that the bill could reach the governor's desk during his vacation, which is scheduled for the last week of July and into the first week of August, meaning that Healey would be acting governor and could sign or veto the bill.
Marion Just, professor of political science at Wellesley College, said she does not believe that abortion rights voters would hold it against Healey if the governor decides to veto the emergency contraception bill. All she has to do is politely announce that she would have signed it, Just said.