Last week, GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum claimed that a pair of Supreme Court decisions establishing the constitutional right to use contraception were wrongly decided. In Saturday’s GOP presidential candidates debate, moderator George Stephanopoulos asked former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) whether he agrees with Santorum. During the awkward three minutes that followed, Romney managed to give three completely different answers:
- He Doesn’t Know: Romney initially pleaded ignorance, claiming “I don’t whether a state has a right to ban contraception” and even asking Stephanopoulous whether the Supreme Court has weighed in on this issue. As Stephanopoulous pointed out, however, it’s likely that Romney was merely feigning ignorance to avoid answering the question because he is a graduate of Harvard Law School and would have almost certainly read the Supreme Court’s contraception decisions while he was studying law.
- Banning Contraception Would Require An Amendment: After Stephanopoulous reminded Romney of the Supreme Court’s decisions, Romney took an fairly absolutist view of support for past Supreme Court precedents, stating that the only way to overrule them is through a constitutional amendment: “I believe that the law of the land is as spoken by the Supreme Court, and that if we disagree with the Supreme Court…then we have a process under the Constitution to change that decision, and it’s known as the amendments process.”
- The Court Did Not Decide The Contraception Cases Correctly: Finally, Stephanopoulous asked whether the Supreme Court correctly decided there is a right to privacy under the Constitution — this right to privacy was the basis of the Court’s initial decision protecting contraception. Romney replied that “I don’t believe that they decided that correctly,” and explained that the kind of justices he supports “might well decide to return this issue to states instead of saying it is in the federal Constitution.”
To be fair, Romney also indicated that he would not personally support banning contraception, and complained several times that the question is academic because “I can’t imagine a state banning contraception.” Unfortunately, however, this simply reflects a failure of imagination on Romney’s part. Several states have considered so-called “Personhood” legislation or ballot initiatives which are intended to outlaw many forms of birth control. Under Romney’s third of three positions, such laws would be perfectly constitutional.