Romney and the Abortion Pledge

Mitt won't sign the Susan B. Anthony List's Pro-Life Pledge.

Via the Politico:  Romney won’t sign abortion pledge

Five Republican presidential candidates have signed a pledge to advance the anti-abortion movement if elected to the White House, but the current front runner for the 2012 GOP nomination — Mitt Romney — isn’t one of them.


Mitt Romney, who’s leading in national and early state opinion polls, declined to sign.

I must confess, I always find this kinds of pledges to be a bit silly.  I think this for a variety of reasons, including:  they are ways to force candidates into corners, they are nothing more grandstanding anyway, and they are ultimately non-binding.  Either one thinks a candidate will support one’s policy preferences or they won’t.  Getting them to sign a pledge isn’t going to matter one whit once they are in the Oval Office.

It is interesting, of course, in Romney’s case in particular, that he is not signing this particular pledge given that he has changed his public stance on abortion for seemingly political reasons over time.  As such, the non-signing will likely dog him a bit in some quarters.

The interesting thing about this pledge, however, is that it was not just a generic “I don’t like abortion” kind of thing, but rather is linked to funding Planned Parenthood (amongst other things):

“Governor Romney pledged in the last campaign that he would be a pro-life president and of course he pledges it today,” said spokeswoman Andrea Saul in a statement. “However, this well-intentioned effort has some potentially unforeseen consequences and he does not feel he could in good conscience sign it. Gov. Romney has been a strong supporter of the SBA List in the past and he looks forward to continue working with them to promote a culture of life.”

Saul said that Romney, who publicly supported abortion rights in his 1994 Senate and 2002 gubernatorial campaigns, was concerned that the pledge would “strip taxpayer funding from thousands of health care facilities” and that it “strictly limits the choices” in appointing federal officials.

The pledge calls for legislation to defund Planned Parenthood – already a rallying point for the social conservative movement – and to cut funding to “all other contractors and recipients of federal funds with affiliates that perform or fund abortions.”

As such, it would appear that Romney is taking a more nuanced view of this matter than are his GOP colleagues.  While it is true, as the Politico piece notes, that Planned Parenthood is a major provider of abortions in the US, it only accounts fro 3% of the health care services that they provided.  While the first part of the previous sentence may well be sufficient reason in the minds of many to cut all funding to Planned Parenthood, the argument can certainly be made that it is a rather blunt instrument to deploy if, in fact, there are health care benefits that would also be cut.  That, of course, is another debate entirely.

Back to the politics of Romney’s lack of signing, it stikes me that this is an indication that Romney believes himself to be the comfortable frontrunner at the moments, and therefore is in a position to eschew silly symbolism, even if it might make some segment of the GOP base unhappy.

Another part of the pledge that someone who thinks they might be president some day might balk at:

It also locks candidates into selecting abortion opponents for “relevant Cabinet and Executive Branch positions, in particular the head of National Institutes of Health, the Department of Health & Human Services, and the Department of Justice.”

Herman Cain and Gary Johnson have also declined to sign.

The Susan B. Anthony List’s pledge can be found here.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. ponce says:

    Loyalty oaths and purity tests are hallmarks of the very best political movements.

  2. Tsar Nicholas II says:

    Good for Romney. Political litmus tests are a farce and set very, very dangerous precedents.

    On a different but related topic, agreed 100% that this means Romney already views himself as the nominee. We have to presume his team’s internal polling supports that notion and as such that he’s already running a de facto general election campaign. I can’t help but wonder, however, whether Team Romney has factored in a potential Rick Perry candidacy. Hmm.

  3. Gulliver says:

    Romney won’t sign abortion pledge

    And Obama won’t obey the law. Why don’t you fools quit picking your navel lint over Republican personal views and start talking about the things that actually matter? Are you really trying to provide insightful commentary on the significant matters facing this country and out future, or are you just indulging your liberal proclivities in the perceived shortcomings of all things Republican?

    Dweeebs. You deserve Obama. The rest of the country doesn’t.

  4. Terrye says:

    I am willing to cut Romney some slack here. He has explained his reasons, citing the broad brush nature of the pledge. The truth is he could have signed it and then ignored it..but instead, he chose to be honest about his feelings. I think Cain probably felt constrained by the pledge as well.

    It might dog him, but then again, how many people really care about something like this?

  5. An Interested Party says:

    And Obama won’t obey the law.

    Oh? Than why won’t the House of Representatives bring forth articles of impeachment against him? Hmm?

    Dweeebs. You deserve Obama. The rest of the country doesn’t.

    Such trenchant commentary….the hallmark of ODS…

  6. A voice from another precinct says:

    The pro-life crowd are just like my fellow teacher from about 10 years ago who used to use her Ford F-350 ton and a half pick up (with rear dualies) commute 65 miles from a small town on the Washington coast to a slightly larger town up river to work. She supported Ralph Nader because she was interested in stopping all those (other?) people from wasting energy resources (you know, the ones who drive big cars that use a lot of gas). All of the various one-issue voting blocs are simply seeking to impose their whims on an electorate that they cannot persuade to live as they imagine they do. I give Romney his due for not falling for it.

    On the other hand, at this time in 2007 I believe that “the comfortable frontrunner at the moments” (sic) had some sort of a foreign sounding name–maybe Italian…

  7. mattb says:

    I totally agree with the premise that Romney see’s himself as the nominee and is acting accordingly — taking positions (this, his take on Anthropomorphic Climate Change) that play well with a broader swath of the population.

    I know that ever presidential nomination is sets (or is indicative of) the direction of the party. If Romney easily wins the nomination, what might that say about all the attention paid to the Tea Party and the recent RINO hunts? Would a Romney nomination mark the end of them? Or, if he should be the candidate and he loses the election, would that actually shift the party further right?