In a primary debate earlier this year, Anderson Cooper asked: "If hypothetically Roe versus Wade was overturned, and the Congress passed a federal ban on all abortion, and it came to your desk, would you sign it? Yes or no?" Mitt Romney said he'd be delighted to sign such a bill, and the Obama campaign is making hay with this in the ad on the right. Michael Scherer thinks it's a cheap shot:
Here is the transcript, from a Republican debate on Nov. 28, 2007:
....Romney: Let me say it. I’d be delighted to sign that bill. But that’s not where we are. That’s not where America is today. Where America is, is ready to overturn Roe v. Wade and return to the states that authority. But if the Congress got there, we had that kind of consensus in the country, terrific.
Romney conditions his support for this hypothetical bill on an America that does not exist, or one in which there is “such a consensus in this country that we said, we don’t want to have abortion in this country at all, period.” He also says clearly, “that’s not where we are.” In other words, he does not say that he would push against popular opinion to support such a bill. He is also silent on whether his ban would include exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother. Obama supporters say he doesn’t need to be explicit about exceptions, since the question is about “all abortions.” But the history of abortion debates within the Republican Party suggests otherwise.
I don't really see Scherer's point here. It's true that Romney thinks (accurately) that no flat ban on abortion is likely to cross the president's desk in the near future. So in the sense of trying to figure out what will actually happen over the next four or eight years, it's probably true that a President Romney wouldn't have a chance to sign a flat ban on abortion.
But that's only half of what any election is about. The other half is about what a prospective candidate wants to do. I don't think the United States will ever return to the gold standard, for example, but the fact that Ron Paul supports it tells me that he's a crank. That's reason enough not to vote for him.
Likewise, even if Romney never has the opportunity to sign a nationwide ban on abortion, he's obviously saying that he'd like to if he ever got the chance. What's more, Romney probably would get a chance to overturn Roe v. Wade by appointing a Sam Alito clone to the Supreme Court, and he knows very well that this would result in plenty of states flatly banning abortion. This tells me he's an abortion extremist, and it tells me a lot about who he is. It's fair game.
As for whether Romney, in his heart of hearts, wants to ban all abortions nationwide, or would reject a bill unless it made exceptions for rape and incest, who knows? Romney is obviously willing to fudge the question depending on what audience he's talking to, and it's hardly dirty pool for the Obama campaign to take advantage of that. The ambiguity in the Obama ad is a direct result of the ambiguity in Romney's position.