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Romney vetoes law on pill, takes aim at Roe v. Wade

Opinion article reflects a shift from '02 view

Three years after expressing support for ''the substance" of Roe v. Wade, Governor Mitt Romney today criticizes the landmark ruling that legalized abortion and says the states should decide separately whether to allow it.

Romney outlines his abortion position in an opinion article today in The Boston Globe, a day after he vetoed a bill that would expand access to the so-called ''morning after" pill, a high dose of hormones that women can take to prevent pregnancy up to five days after sex.

In a written response to a questionnaire for candidates in 2002, Romney told Planned Parenthood that he supported ''the substance of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade," according to the group. Today, Romney describes himself as a ''pro-life governor" who wishes ''the laws of our nation could reflect that view." Calling the country ''divided over abortion," he says states ''should determine their own abortion laws and not have them dictated by judicial mandate."

''I understand that my views on laws governing abortion set me in the minority in our Commonwealth," Romney says in the op-ed article. ''I am prolife. I believe that abortion is the wrong choice, except in cases of incest, rape, and to save the life of the mother. I wish the people of America agreed, and that the laws of our nation could reflect that view."

Romney said he had vetoed the emergency contraception bill to fulfill his 2002 campaign promise not to change state abortion laws.

But supporters of the measure, pointing out that Romney has also pledged to support expanded access to emergency contraception, accused the GOP governor of trying to burnish his conservative credentials for a possible presidential run.

The bill that Romney vetoed would allow trained pharmacists to dispense the morning-after pill without a prescription and would require hospitals to offer it to rape victims. It almost certainly will become law despite Romney's rejection; both the House and Senate approved it by veto-proof margins, and legislative leaders said they plan to override his veto.

The governor interrupted a New Hampshire vacation to return to Boston to veto the bill, and he publicized his action with one-on-one interviews with television reporters, a sit-down session with newspaper reporters in his State House office, and the Globe op-ed article. Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, who has said she supports expanded access to emergency contraception, was not available for interviews yesterday.

''I promised the people of Massachusetts that as governor I would not change the laws of the Commonwealth as they relate to abortion," Romney wrote in a veto letter to lawmakers. ''If taken soon enough, the so-called 'morning after' pill performs as a contraceptive. But in some cases, it can also act to prevent the implantation of the embryo. To those who believe that life begins at conception, the morning-after pill can destroy the human life that was created at the moment of fertilization."

The emergency contraception pill, also called Plan B, is not to be confused with RU-486, which is used to end pregnancies up to 49 days after the beginning of the last menstrual cycle.

The US Food and Drug Administration approved the use of the emergency contraception pill as a form of prescription birth control in 1998. The agency has refused to grant a request by the pill's manufacturer to sell it over the counter, despite the overwhelming vote of an advisory panel in 2003 recommending such a move. In the absence of federal action, seven states have allowed pharmacists to dispense it without a prescription.

According to the FDA, the pill works mostly by stopping the release of an egg from the ovary. But it also may block fertilization or prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the womb.

For those who believe that life begins at conception, the latter amounts to abortion.

''The issue of this being an abortifacient is not secret to the prolife community," said Marie Sturgis of Massachusetts Citizens for Life. ''This is something that can cause a chemical abortion, and so we would not be in favor of this."

As Romney touted his fulfillment of a campaign promise, supporters of the bill criticized him for breaking one.

They pointed out that on a questionnaire that abortion rights groups gave to the gubernatorial candidates in 2002, Romney answered yes to the question, ''Will you support efforts to increase access to emergency contraception?" As the governor explained his decision to reporters inside his State House office, protesters in the hallway chanted: ''Mitt Romney, we want the pill. Keep your word, sign the bill!"

''Not only did he let down women and families in our state, but he has not kept his word," said Melissa Kogut, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts. ''I think he's more concerned about the opinions of Iowa caucus goers than the opinion of women in our state."

Asked how yesterday's veto squares with his answer on the 2002 questionnaire, Romney argued that he supports emergency contraception, but not the sort envisioned in the bill.

''I do support expansion of emergency contraception; I have no problem with emergency contraception," he told reporters in his office. ''This product not only does that, but in some cases terminates life after conception. In that case, it ceases to be an emergency contraception bill and becomes an emergency abortion bill."

He did not elaborate. Supporters of the bill said they were perplexed by his logic, since the term ''emergency contraception" refers to Plan B or similar pills.

''The governor misunderstands the effects of this medication, and . . . misinterprets how this bill's provisions would apply to existing state abortion laws," said House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi.

Senator Susan C. Fargo of Lincoln, who cochairs the Legislature's Public Health Committee, said: ''Mitt Romney's justification for this flip-flop is nothing but a cowardly smoke screen. His real motivation is his political ambition."

Senator Pamela P. Resor, the Marlborough Democrat who helped shepherd the bill through the Senate, said: ''This bill has nothing to do with abortion, except that its passage will help prevent them. For Governor Romney to put his own political aspirations before the safety, health, and well-being of women across the Commonwealth is irresponsible."

Romney has described himself as ''personally prolife," but some conservatives view him as less than stalwart in his opposition to abortion, given his 2002 pledge not to curb access to it. Yesterday's veto may help win them over.

''It definitely gives us another reason to take a second look; is he just doing it to play to a voter group, or is there something sincere here?" said Pia de Solenni of the Washington-based Family Research Council.

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

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