WASHINGTON -- A religious conservative group that spent part of the 2008 campaign attacking Mitt Romney on grounds that he signed off on pro-abortion policy while governor of Massachusetts is pledging to take on the candidate again during his second run for the White House.
Bob Enyart, a spokesman for American Right To Life, told The Huffington Post on Monday that his organization would launch ads targeting Romney for both past statements he made endorsing a woman's right to choose and for the health care law he authored in Massachusetts that covered elective abortions.
"We plan to make every effort to let pro-lifers know that Mitt Romney is trying to use them to win the nomination," said Enyart. "We believe he is not at all pro-life and he is just manipulating people. The Republican Party has seemed to use abortion for years now as a political tool or weapon without the real concern if it is immoral. It is just a fundraising ploy and a way to get votes."
Enyart's critique is based partially on an aspect of the Massachusetts health care legislation that, even Democrats say, was not entirely in Romney's control. Under state law, if health care services are to be subsidized by the government, then abortion services must be one of the procedures provided.
Even if that law hadn't applied, Romney would have had limited say over whether or not abortion would fall under included services. The Connector Authority, an independent public authority created under the law, was responsible for administering the Commonwealth Care package. Choices of what was covered were left to that ten-person board.
"On this one, I think Romney is exactly right," said Jonathan Gruber, a liberal-leaning MIT economics professor who worked with the former governor on his reform law. "The bill and his plan were very vague about what was to be covered. The bill did not specify what was to be included. That was the board's decision. He didn't put in the law that it couldn't cover abortion. There was a minimum benefits package to be decided by the board."
Enyart said he thought these explanations were misleading excuses -- the fallback arguments of a politician eager to curry favor with social conservatives. He pointed to a fact-sheet ARTL put together noting that Romney was responsible for appointing three members to the ten-member Connector Authority board. Gruber countered, in an interview with The Huffington Post several weeks ago, that when the abortion issue was discussed, Romney was out of office and his appointees were off the board.
Enyart also disputed the reach of the court cases that Romney's camp says determined that abortion should be offered to those getting subsidized insurance. There was, Enyart said, a distinction between "medically necessary" procedures, which the courts dealt with, and "unfettered abortion on demand," which, he said, Romneycare provides.
In 2008, ARTL turned these distinctions into campaign ads in critical primary states. The organization put up a cartoonish spot that, despite its low production cost, underscored the general skepticism that social conservatives have toward Romney. With Romney's health care law taking on an even more elevated role in the 2012 race -- and with the social conservative base eager to prove its continued significance inside the GOP tent -- the attacks will be amplified once more.
"We plan to use updated commercials," said Enyart.
The Romney campaign did not return a request for comment.
UPDATE: Eddie Vale, a spokesman for Protect Your Care, a group launched to advocate on behalf of President Obama's health care law and, by extension, its philosophical precursor -- Romneycare -- sends over the following statement defending the former governor.
This is another ridiculous attack from the extreme right on Romney's health care plan. His plan that included responsible family planning and input from Planned Parenthood is the moderate position that the majority of the American people support.