For or Against a Health Exception? Romney Still Doesn’t Know and No One is Asking the Right Questions

Last week, presidential contender Mitt Romney told CBS news that he believed abortion should be allowed in cases of rape, incest, and the health or life of the woman or girl carrying an embryo or fetus. Soon after, he had a spokesperson tell the religious right that he “misspoke” and didn’t actually mean it.

Now, NPR also is noticing he says one thing in public, then has someone later clarify his stance on his behalf.

The Romney campaign won’t say the candidate misspoke, but a spokeswoman does say he doesn’t support an exception to protect the health of the pregnant woman. That’s because other abortion opponents, including GOP vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, insist it creates too large a loophole, since health often encompasses mental health, too.

“The health exception is a loophole wide enough to drive a Mack truck through it,” said Ryan on the House floor during a debate in 2000 on a bill to ban the procedure some call “partial birth” abortion. “The health exception would render this ban virtually meaningless.”

Since Romney still seems to be having troubles explaining his exact position, perhaps its time to stop asking him, “do you believe in this exception” and instead ask him what he would do in real situations. 

For example:

If a patient is diagnosed with cancer and is eight weeks pregnant, would she be allowed to have an abortion to focus on her own health if she wanted one, or would he insist she remain pregnant while undergoing chemotherapy, leading her either to miscarry or potentially give birth to a genetically deformed and nonviable fetus?

Would he allow a woman who had her water break at 16 weeks terminate the pregnancy then, knowing that the odds of her actually staying pregnant to viability are minuscule?  Or would he make her wait until she had actually developed an infection and if so, how at risk must her life be before she could induce the labor?

Should a couple learn at 20 weeks that their child had no functioning brain and would not survive long after birth, if it survived the labor at all, would they be allowed to terminate the pregnancy, or would he force the mother to continue to carry that pregnancy to term even against their wishes?

Would he approve of methotrexate to treat an ectopic pregnancy, or force the pregnant woman to wait until her fallopian tube ruptured and had to be surgically removed with the embryo inside?

If a patient has a heart condition that would only grow worse as a pregnancy progressed, how close to death must she be in order to be allowed an abortion?

For those who are truly against “health exceptions” for abortion, the argument is that there is never a point in which a woman’s life or health is in danger in which an abortion is required.  If treatment of the woman results in ending of the pregnancy, that is allowed, but no active action to terminate the pregnancy to address the situation can be approved.

Is this what Romney believes, and will he say it unequivocally to both the public and the religious right? Or will he continue to dance around the real examples and tell everyone what he thinks they want to hear?

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

For more information or to schedule an interview with contact

Follow Robin Marty on twitter: @robinmarty

  • thalwen

    It’s always shocked me how quickly politicians conceded the health exception. To me, the idea that it is perfectly fine to endanger my health as long as it doesn’t kill me doesn’t give me much comfort. Would we refuse to treat someone for breathing problems as a result of smoking as long as they aren’t in imminent danger of killing the smoker? Of course not, that would be inhumane. Talking about health in pregnancy as some sort of side issue or an excuse the sluts would have for their sluttitude, that’s just dandy.


    AFAIK, all late term abortions are done because of the health/life of the mother or fetus. Yet, “partial birth” bans are all characterised by stupid slutty women being convinced to have an abortion because at 7 months they really don’t understand they are pregnant. We really need to change the rhetoric.