FACT CHECK: Gingrich’s ‘baloney’-filled attacks on Romney

New ad and web video make misleading claims about the GOP front-runner

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Gingrich ad titled 'Pious baloney'

Newt Gingrich is out with two new attacks on Mitt Romney: an ad airing in South Carolina that tries to brand Romney as a “pro-abortion” governor, and a nearly three-minute Web video that gauges Romney statements on a “Baloney-O-Meter.” We found a bit of baloney in both.

  • The ad airing in South Carolina misleadingly says that Romney “expanded access to abortion pills.” The law in question concerned emergency contraception, or “the morning-after pill” (now available over the counter), not the controversial RU-486, known as “the abortion pill.”
  • The ad also says Romney “put Planned Parenthood on a state medical board but failed to put a pro-life group on the same board.” The Web video makes an even more sweeping claim that Romney “gave Planned Parenthood power over Massachusetts healthcare.” But the president of a right-to-life affiliate told us that the board had nothing to do with abortion and was a “minor” issue. “This isn’t something that we would choose to even bring up,” she said.
  • It makes the misleading claim that the Massachusetts health care law called for “taxpayer-funded abortions.” But the law said nothing about abortion. It was the state exchange that later said abortions would be covered by subsidized plans, following state Supreme Court rulings on what is required of Medicaid coverage.
  • Gingrich’s web video lacks context when it claims that Romney raised taxes and fees “on gun owners and people who are blind.” The fees on the blind never took effect. And Romney did propose increasing firearm fees, but not as high as the fees that the Democratic Legislature later passed.

The ad, which began airing in South Carolina on Jan. 10, claims that after Romney switched his position in 2004 from pro-abortion rights to anti-abortion, “he governed pro-abortion.” The web video, titled “Pious Baloney,” went up on YouTube on Jan. 9 and is part of a new Gingrich campaign site called www.stopromneyspiousbaloney.com.

No ‘Abortion Pills’ Here

The Gingrich ad makes the highly misleading claim that Romney “expanded access to abortion pills.” But the law in question had nothing to do with the “abortion pill,” RU-486, the controversial medication that can induce abortion in women who are up to nine weeks pregnant. Instead, the law concerned access to emergency contraception, known as “the morning-after pill,” which even the National Right to Life Committee makes clear is not “the abortion pill.”

The “morning-after pill” can prevent pregnancy, but won’t affect established pregnancies, if taken within a few days of unprotected sex. It is essentially a high dose of birth control pills. It delays ovulation and can prevent implantation of a fertilized egg in the uterus. It’s true that some abortion opponents say the pill, along other forms of birth control, is an abortifacient, which is a drug that induces abortion. But it is not known as “the abortion pill,” which is a much more controversial topic. The Gingrich ad does not explain what it means by “abortion pills,” misleading viewers into believing that Romney expanded access to RU-486. That’s not the case.

In fact, “the morning-after pill,” or Plan B, is available without a prescription for women 17 and older. It was the Bush administration that first made the pill available over the counter in 2006 for women 18 and older. (The Obama administration recently overruled a Food and Drug Administration recommendation to make the pill available to teenagers without a prescription.)

Anne Fox, president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, a National Right to Life affiliate, told us the group’s position is that emergency contraception is “a possible abortifacient.” The issue is whether the drug stops ovulation, similar to the birth control bill – and the group takes “no position on something that’s simply contraception” — or if the drug prevents implantation of a fertilized egg, which would make it an abortifacient in Citizens for Life’s view. What the drug actually did would depend on the person taking it. Ms. Fox said that “it’s a stretch” to call the drug an “abortion pill,” but also said that given the type of language used in political ads, Gingrich “could probably get away with it from our point of view.”

To be sure, some abortion opponents have pushed for a so-called “personhood” law declaring that life begins at the moment a human egg is fertilized, which could make the “morning-after” pill illegal, and arguably an “abortion” pill. But an effort to pass such a law by ballot initiative was recently rejected by more than 55 percent of voters in Mississippi. And of course, it wasn’t the law in Massachusetts.

Our view is that the language in the ad misleads voters into thinking Romney expanded access to RU-486, which – there’s no debate about it – induces abortion.

The ad refers to a law that Romney signed in October 2005, calling for the state to ask for a federal Medicaid waiver to expand eligibility for family-planning services for low-income individuals. Those services would include emergency contraception, as well as a range of family-planning services, such as gynecological exams, screenings for breast and cervical cancer, prenatal care, birth control counseling and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. The Boston Globe reported that anti-abortion groups were upset with Romney, especially since he had vetoed a law earlier that year that called for hospitals to offer emergency contraception to rape victims and for pharmacists to provide it without requiring a prescription. The paper quoted just one anti-abortion advocate who headed a 6,000-member group in Chicago and told the Globe: “Birth control is the kissing cousin of abortion.”

It’s worth noting that many states — 21 of them to be exact — already had these family-planning waivers in 2005. The Boston Globe quoted Eric Fehrnstrom, who was then Romney’s communications director, saying that the state “already provides these health services to low-income women, and we have no objection to the Legislature’s directive that we seek a waiver to expand the eligible population to women with a slightly higher income.”

But the waiver never was granted. (The Medicaid.gov site lists all waivers for all states and the “1115 Family Planning” waiver isn’t among Massachusetts’ waivers.) However, the state did get a waiver to expand eligibility for Medicaid overall. The Kaiser Family Foundation reported in 2009 that at least 26 state Medicaid programs covered emergency contraception.

Romney’s Abortion Record

The Gingrich ad also repeats a few old claims: that Romney “put Planned Parenthood on a state medical board but failed to put a pro-life group on the same board. And Romney signed government mandated health care with taxpayer-funded abortions.”

Both of these claims have to do with the Massachusetts health care overhaul. The law says Planned Parenthood in the state is allowed to appoint one person to a 14-member MassHealth Payment Policy Advisory Board, which reviews rates and payments for Medicaid. The law doesn’t call for an anti-abortion group to appoint a member, but the president of one such group told us the anti-abortion community wasn’t concerned about this at all.

Ms. Fox, president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life, said this issue was “minor” and didn’t have anything to do with abortion.

“The committee doesn’t decide anything that has anything to do with abortion. It is just a rate-setting thing,” Ms. Fox told us. “It was not something that right to lifers were concerned about at the time. It was a minor thing. It really is Gingrich trying to make something significant [out of nothing]. This isn’t something that we would choose to even bring up.”

The Gingrich “Baloney-O-Meter” video, which we’ll address below, gives the impression that the board appointment was a much bigger deal than it was, saying that Romney “gave Planned Parenthood power over Massachusetts health care.” But the 14-member board is only charged with reviewing Medicaid rates and making recommendations for rates “that provide fair compensation for MassHealth services and promote high-quality, safe, effective, timely, efficient, culturally competent and patient-centered care.” MassHealth is the state Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Romney didn’t veto this provision of the law, as he did several other sections. That point was made during the 2008 presidential campaign by GOP candidate Fred Thompson. But, according to Anne Fox, the candidates are making much ado about nothing.

As for the claim that “Romney signed government mandated health care with taxpayer-funded abortions,” that, too, is overblown. The state health care law didn’t say anything about abortion. Instead, the state exchange later decided that subsidized insurance plans would include coverage for abortion. And the exchange may have had little choice but to do so. In 1981, the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that women eligible for Medicaid had a state constitutional right to payments for medically necessary abortions. In 1997, the state high court again ruled that Massachusetts must cover medically necessary abortions if it covers other medically necessary care, such as childbirth.

As we’ve said before, some have argued that Romney could have done more to put limits on abortion coverage in the state health care law. But it’s not true that he signed a law that included “taxpayer-funded abortions.”

The Gingrich web video says that Romney “used taxpayers funds to pay for abortions.” Again, the law didn’t say anything about abortion. Were taxpayer funds ever actually used to cover abortions for those who gained subsidized coverage under the law? We asked the Gingrich campaign if it had any proof for that claim. So far, we have not received a response. But overall, the law didn’t lead to any increase in abortions in the state. In fact, both the number and rate of abortions have declined since the legislation was passed.

The Guttmacher Institute, whose research on abortion has been cited by both political parties, has compiled statistics that show the number of abortions in the state went from 27,270 in 2005, the year before the law was passed, to 24,900 in 2008, the most recent statistic available. And the rate of abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age fell from 19.9 in 2005 to 18.3 in 2008. That’s an 8 percent drop, compared with a small rise of 1 percent nationally.

Finally, the ad makes a truthful claim, saying that Romney “appointed a pro-abortion judge.” It cites a 2007 ABCNews.com piece that said Romney had nominated a longtime Democrat to a lifetime position on a district court. The later-confirmed judge, Matthew J. Nestor, once ran for state representative and campaigned as a “pro-choice” candidate. The ABC News article pointed out that Romney nominated Nestor two months after Romney said he had changed his stance from pro-abortion rights to anti-abortion in November 2004.

ABC reported that Romney aides had said the governor considered a district court appointment to be different from one for appellate court, since the former rules on criminal and civil cases, not constitutional matters. The article also quoted Romney’s deputy campaign manager for his 2008 presidential run as saying: “The two main considerations were experience and having someone who was going to be tough on crime and able to handle the incredibly hectic pace of a busy district court.”

Readers can decide for themselves how much the district court appointment, or the other issues raised in the ad, affect Romney’s anti-abortion credentials, which our fact-checking colleagues at The Washington Post have noted are mixed. He did veto the law requiring the morning-after pill to be dispensed to rape victims at hospitals. His veto was later overridden by the Legislature. Romney then backed a state ruling that private hospitals, including religious hospitals, didn’t have to follow the requirement if they had moral objections. But he later flip-flopped on that position, saying that his legal counsel concluded that all hospitals would have to follow the new law. The Boston Globe also quoted Romney as saying: “My personal view, in my heart of hearts, is that people who are subject to rape should have the option of having emergency contraception or emergency contraception information.”

Romney’s evolving position on embryonic stem cell research angered both anti-abortion groups and those who supported such research. He opposed a state Senate bill to support the creation of embryos for research, but he didn’t object to research on embryos from fertility clinics.

Ms. Fox, with Massachusetts Citizens for Life, says this of Romney’s overall record on abortion: “We and National Right to Life are quite comfortable with the fact that he takes a pro-life position, that he governs with it, and that he will continue to have it.”

Introducing the Baloney-O-Meter

The Gingrich campaign created a website, www.stopromneyspiousbaloney.com, that plays off Gingrich’s recent “Meet the Press” debate jab at Romney, “Can we drop a little bit of the pious baloney?” The quip came in response to Romney’s claim that “for me, politics, is not a career” and that he “long[ed] for a day where instead of having people to go to Washington for 20 and 30 years who get elected and then when they lose office they stay there and make money as lobbyists or connecting to businesses, I think it stinks.” Gingrich claimed the only reason Romney wasn’t serving in the Senate was because he ran against Democrat Ted Kennedy in 1994 and lost.

The new website from the Gingrich campaign includes a nearly three-minute video featuring a Baloney-O-Meter that tilts wildly when Romney makes statements about being a true and consistent conservative.

But the ad metes out some baloney of its own.

For example, the video states: “As governor, Mitt used taxpayer funds to pay for abortions and gave Planned Parenthood power over Massachusetts healthcare.” We dealt with that claim above.

The ad also states that “Mitt Romney raised taxes and fees $700 million. After pledging not to.” The video then cuts to a clip of Romney on “Meet the Press” saying, “I’m not trying to hide the fact that we raised fees.” Text in the ad then states, “Including on guns and people who are blind.”

Let’s start with the video’s claim that “Mitt Romney raised taxes and fees $700 million.” The video cleverly groups “taxes and fees” to sidestep the debate about whether they are synonymous. Technically, Romney never raised personal income taxes, but he did increase fees by hundreds of thousands of dollars, and he also closed loopholes on some corporate taxes (a fact we have noted whenever Romney has claimed he did not raise taxes as governor).

When John McCain cited an identical $700 million figure in the 2008 Republican presidential race,we noted that there is disagreement over that amount, with the state Department of Administration and Finance putting the fee total at $260 million a year and the corporate tax change at $174 million a year, and the independent Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation saying both fees and taxes totaled $740 million to $750 million a year.

As for the claim that Gov. Romney raised fees “on gun owners and people who are blind,” it’s true that in 2003 Romney put forth a fiscal year 2004 budget proposal that included fees on both. But some context is in order.

Romney’s proposed budget sought to raise firearm license fees from $25 to $75. However, the Democratic-controlled Legislature decided to raise those fees even higher, to $100 (see Section 34 of Chapter 140). That burden was eased a bit the following year when the term of a license was increased from four to six years.

As for fees on blind people, it’s true that Romney’s budget proposal called for a new $10 fee for a certificate of blindness from the state (used by blind people for tax purposes and to avail themselves of some government services) and another $15 fee for photo identification cards for the blind, which can be used to get free access to public transportation. Together, the fees were projected to bring the state $114,000 in FY 2004. But the Democratic state Legislature rejected those fees, so they never came to pass.

“In Massachusetts, the governor can only propose a budget, the legislature has to appropriate the budget,” explained Bob Hachey, president of Bay State Council of the Blind. “The governor on his own can’t institute something like that.”

“Gingrich is on the right path, but he went a little too far,” Hachey said. “He is correct in the sense that Romney tried to use these fees as a way to say, ‘I did not raise taxes.’ But that one never actually happened.”

Romney spokesman Eric Fehrnstrom has argued that Gov. Romney faced a $3 billion deficit when he took office, and that “he balanced the budget primarily through spending cuts and reforms. Fee increases accounted for approximately 10 percent of the solution, and they were not broad-based by any means.”

At one Republican debate in 2008, Romney said the fees needed to be adjusted for inflation and to cover the cost of services, but Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation President Michael Widmer told us then that the increase “wasn’t tied to any analysis of the cost of delivering those services” and the group characterized those fees as “far in excess of any reasonable measure of the cost of services.”

The Gingrich video also calls out Romney for claiming in the “Meet the Press” debate that he hadn’t seen a pro-Romney super PAC’s ads attacking Gingrich, and then a few seconds later, describing them.

Romney, Jan. 8: "And with regards to their ads, I haven’t seen them."

Then a little bit later, he did, in fact, go on to describe one of the ads.

Romney, Jan. 8: "But let me tell you this. The– the ad I saw said that– that you’d been forced out of the speakership. That was correct. It said that– that you’d sat down with Nancy Pelosi and– and argued for– for a climate change bill. That was correct. It said that you’d called the– the– Ron Paul– wrong Paul. Paul Ryan’s plan to– to provide– Medicare reform– a right-wing social engineering plan. It said that– that as part of an investigation, an ethics investigation that you had to reimburse some $300,000. Those things are all true.

If there was something related to abortion that it said that was wrong, I hope they pull it out. Anything wrong, I’m opposed to. But, you know, this ain’t– this ain’t a bean bag. We’re gonna come into a campaign. We’re gonna describe the differences between us."

Gingrich claimed The Washington Post Fact Checker had found “virtually nothing accurate” in one of the ads from pro-Romney super PAC Restore Our Future. Romney, as we highlighted earlier, ticked off a number of statements from the ad that he said were true.

We concluded that Romney was mostly correct about the ad statements he mentioned, and Gingrich was wrong. We noted that in our fact-check of the ad, we found it had a few false and misleading claims, but also many were accurate, as Romney said.

– by Lori Robertson and Robert Farley

Sources

Ebbert, Stephanie. “Romney Signs Bill on Family Planning.” Boston Globe. 15 Oct 2005.

Massachusetts Commonwealth Connector. “About the Connector: Overview.” www.MAHealthConnector.org, 6 Dec. 2007.

Haslmaier, Edmund F. “The Massachusetts Health Reform: Assessing its Significance and Progress.” 21 Sep. 2007.

Hyman, David A. “The Massachusetts Health Plan: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” 28 Jun. 2007.

Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Session Laws, Acts 2003, Chapter 140: An Act Making Appropriations for Fiscal Year 2004.

Gov. Mitt Romney’s Budget Recommendation FY 2004. Executive Office for Health and Human Services. Fees from Certificate of Blindness and Photo ID Cards for Blind Services. Accessed via Internet Archives Wayback Machine.

FactCheck.org interview with Bob Hachey, president of Bay State Council of the Blind. 10 Jan 2012.

FactCheck.org interview with Anne Fox, president of Massachusetts Citizens for Life. 11 Jan 2012.

LeBlanc, Steve. “Romney oversaw millions in fee hikes as Massachusetts governor.” Associated Press. 28 Aug 2007.

Moody, Chris. “Gingrich’s latest Romney slam: He taxed the blind.” Yahoo News, The Ticket. 07 Jan 2012.

Kahn, Ric. “State Fees Resemble Taxes to Those Who’ll Pay.” The Boston Globe. 29 May 2003.

Landrigan, Kevin. “Taxing Matter.” Nashua Telegraph. 13 Dec 2007.