As Mississippi debated, then defeated, a "personhood" amendment that would have granted legal rights to fertilized human eggs, multiple media outlets reported that GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney refused to clarify whether he supported the measure, which would ban not only abortions but also common forms of birth control.
But no media outlet that I could find reported that four years ago Romney said he supported the federal equivalent of the Mississippi personhood measure.
The federal version would expand the definition of a "person" under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to include the unborn.
"We support a Human Life Amendment to the Constitution, and we endorse legislation to make it clear that the 14th Amendment's protections apply to unborn children."
Romney was asked, "Do you support that part of the Republican platform?"
"You know, I do support the Republican platform, and I support that being part of the Republican platform, and I'm pro-life," Romney told ABC.
But things changed in September of this year, at a GOP presidential forum in South Carolina. When Princeton Professor Robert George asked Romney specifically about the federal personhood measure, Romney flipped, saying he'd oppose it.
George asked Romney and other GOP candidates:
Section Five of the 14th Amendment expressly authorizes the Congress by appropriate legislation to enforce the guarantees of due process and equal protection contained in the amendment's first section. Now, as someone who believes in the inherent and equal dignity of all members of the human family including the child in the womb, would you as president propose to Congress appropriate legislation pursuant to the 14th Amendment to protect human life in all stages and conditions?
Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, and Newt Gingrich all said they would do so. But Romney replied:
That would create obviously a constitutional crisis. Could that happen in this country? Could there be circumstances where that might occur? I think it's reasonable that something of that nature might happen someday. That's not something I would precipitate.
Two months later, in October, Romney told Fox News' Mike Huckabee that he "absolutely" would have signed an amendment to the Massachussets constitution establishing that life begins a conception.
Journalists (from The New York Times, The New Yorker, and others) tried to get Romney to clarify whether his response to Huckabee meant that he supported Mississippi's personhood amendment, but his campaign did not issue a clear statement.
For example, asked about personhood last week, Romney's spokesperson Gail Gitcho told Politico's Ben Smith, that Romney believes that life begins at conception and favors a "Human Life Amendment that overturns Roe vs. Wade and sends the issue back to the states," but she stopped short of saying Romney opposes a state personhood measure. (A "human life amendment" would overturn Roe v. Wade, without giving legal protections to a fertilized egg as a person.)
Gitcho's statement to Politico above, and her additional comments that Romney is "supportive of efforts to ensure recognition that life begins at conception" and that "these matters should be left up to states to decide," leaves open the possibility for support of a Mississippi-style personhood amendment. In fact, that would be consistent with support for "efforts to ensure recognition that life begins at conception," wouldn't it?
Similarly, Romney's own statement last month to a voter in Iowa, who asked if he wants to ban birth control, sheds no light on his view of the personhood issue: "I don't," Romney replied. "I'm sorry, life begins at conception; birth control prevents conception." This is meaningless because, as you know if you follow the complexities of this issue, personhood supporters don't oppose "birth control," like condoms that don't wipe out fertilized eggs. And they don't use the term "birth control" for IUDs and some forms of the pill that do destroy fertilized eggs, or have the potential to do so. Those are called abortifacients. So Romney's statement that birth control prevents conception is perfectly acceptable to the personhood crowd, and he used the same logic to veto a bill allowing the use of the morning-after pill in Massachusetts in 2005.
Romney's changing position on the personhood issue, which may reflect his campaign's concerns about polling on the issue as well as the experience of failed GOP Colorado Senate Candidate Ken Buck, has frustrated the folks at Personhood USA, which has backed state-based initiatives like the one in Mississippi.
"Romney made positive comments on Mike Huckabee's show, but we've heard mixed messages," Jennifer Mason, Communications Director for Personhood USA told me, adding that at one point in the past she viewed Romney a Personhood backer. "We would like to know if he does support Personhood. America wants to know specifically how he falls on the pro-life issues. We haven't heard anything since the Huckabee show about his position on Personhood. We're still waiting."
Asked if appropriate changes with respect to the definition of a person in the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution would constitute "personhood" at the federal level, Mason said:
"A federal personhood amendment is our ultimate goal, but it really depends on the language. If it protects every human being , no matter of stage of development, size, location, gender or race, then we would support it. In fact that is what we are hoping for."
What if someone like Romney believes "life begins at conception" and also supports 14th Amendment protection of the "unborn?" Does that combination do the trick for Mason?
"I believe so," she replied.
Like Personhood USA, Planned Parenthood also views changes to the 14th Amendment as the federal approach to personhood.
"Yes, it is fair to say that Planned Parenthood believes the effort to change the 14th amendment is a federal version of 'personhood' measures we've seen in the states," said Monica McCafferty, Director of Marketing and Communications for Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains. "They are all seeking to provide constitutional protection to fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses at all stages of development, regardless of viability."
So, until Romney stops hiding from journalists, and announces where he stands on personhood, reporters should no longer state, as as the Las Vegas Sun did Thursday that "he has never voiced explicit support for it." or even, as Politico stated Nov. 9, that it's unclear "he supports the Mississippi law or others like it."
Instead, the most fair and accurate way for journalists to describe Romney's position on personhood is to write that he's flip-flopped on the issue over the years, first for personhood on the federal level (in 2007), then against it (in Sept. 2011), and finally maybe in favor of a state version (last month).