WASHINGTON — Fred Thompson escalated the Republican presidential candidates' war over abortion Wednesday by tying former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney to "$50 abortions in Massachusetts."
Romney, the governor from 2003 until January, helped create Commonwealth Care, a state-run and subsidized program for low- and moderate-income people. The state helps determine what services are to be covered, and its list includes a provision in which women can get abortions for $50 co-payments.
The legislation also created a MassHealth payment policy advisory board that gave Planned Parenthood a seat, but not an anti-abortion group.
"Romney claims to be pro-life," the Thompson campaign said in a statement. "But under his health care plan, Massachusetts residents now have access to taxpayer-funded abortions for $50."
The Thompson statement also said that Romney had used his line-item veto authority to strike eight sections of the bill, but not the terms guaranteeing Planned Parenthood board representation, "and he did nothing to prohibit taxpayer-financed abortions as part of his plan."
The Romney campaign objected. Spokesman Kevin Madden branded Thompson's claims a "distortion," saying that under state law, if Massachusetts is funding health care benefits, it can't refuse abortion coverage.
"Governor Romney is firmly pro-life and is dedicated to fostering a culture that welcomes and protects the sanctity of life," Madden said.
But the allegation by Thompson, the former Tennessee senator, hits Romney in a highly sensitive area. Romney was sympathetic to abortion rights when he ran for governor five years ago, but later became vocally anti-abortion.
"Mitt Romney ran as a pro-choice gubernatorial candidate in 2002," said Kelly O'Bryan, the political director of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts, earlier this fall.
Romney has explained repeatedly that he didn't change his position on abortion for political reasons. He says he's always been personally opposed to abortion, but backed his state's right to set its own legal standard.
His view hardened during his governorship, notably as controversy over stem-cell research and human cloning led him to think more deeply about his views on human life.
Romney's camp pointed out that the Commonwealth Care package is administered by an independent public authority whose decisions were made separately from the Romney administration. But as governor, Romney appointed half the key decision-makers on the board.
"Other campaigns will peddle distortions on the issue of life," said Madden, "but Governor Romney will continue to talk about his pro-life record and position."
ON THE WEB
To see the Commonwealth Care list of approved procedures: