As Planned Parenthood and NARAL demanded action on the bill, and the Massachusetts Catholic Conference continued to speak out against it, Gov. Mitt Romney remained mum.
"Shawn Feddeman, spokeswoman for Gov. Mitt Romney, declined to comment on the governor's position on the bill," the Boston Globe reported on July 1, 2004. "'We'll review it when it reaches the governor's desk.'"
The bill was reintroduced in the next session -- and Romney remained mum.
Romney had "no opinion on the bill," his spokesman, Eric Fehrnstorm, told The Associated Press in April 2005. "We'll take a look at the bill should it reach the governor's desk."
But the bill had veto-proof support in both chambers of the Democrat-controlled legislature in 2005. In July, the House and Senate reached a compromise on it that would protect Catholic hospitals from being forced to act against their faith.
At that time, the Massachusetts Catholic Conference published a bulletin explaining what happened. The House had included language to "expressly apply" the 1975 conscience law protections to the new emergency contraception law. The Senate had included language saying the new law should apply "notwithstanding" any existing law.
"In the end, neither amendment was included in the bill," said the Massachusetts Catholic Conference. "House Majority Leader John Rogers, who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to defend the hospitals' right of conscience, made it clear during floor debate on July 21 that the House blocked the Senate amendment so that the 1975 conscience statute would continue to have full effect."
The conference provided me with a copy of this bulletin, and Rogers assured me its account was "accurate and true."
The Catholic Church still opposed the bill because it would facilitate abortions. But at least the religious liberty of Catholic hospitals had been preserved -- or so it seemed.
On July 25, 2005, Romney vetoed the bill -- even though it was clear his veto would be overridden.
He published an op-ed in the Boston Globe the next day explaining his decision. "The bill does not involve only the prevention of conception," he wrote. "The drug it authorizes would also terminate life after conception." Romney said the veto kept his pledge not to change the state's abortion laws.
Romney made no mention of the religious liberty issue in his op-ed. But then, the bill, as the Massachusetts Catholic Conference and the House majority leader understood it, did not allow coercion of Catholic hospitals.
On Dec. 7, 2005, a week before the law was to take effect, the Boston Globe ran a piece headlined: "Private Hospitals Exempt on Pill Law." The article said the state Department of Public Health had determined that the emergency contraception law "does not nullify a statute passed years ago that says privately run hospitals cannot be forced to provide abortions or contraception."
Public Health Commissioner Paul Cote Jr. told the Globe: "We felt very clearly that the two laws don't cancel each other out and basically work in harmony with each other."
Romney spokesman Fehrnstrom told the Globe that Romney agreed with the Department of Public Health on the issue. The governor, he said, "respects the views of health care facilities that are guided by moral principles on this issue."
"The staff of DPH did their own objective and unbiased legal analysis," Romney's spokesman told the Globe. "The brought it to us, and we concur in it."
The Globe itself ruefully bowed to this legal analysis. It ran an editorial headlined: "A Plan B Mistake." "The legislators failed, however," the Globe said, "to include wording in the bill explicitly repealing a clause in an older statute that gives hospitals the right, for reasons of conscience, not to offer birth control services."
Liberals joined in attacking Romney's defense of Catholic hospitals. But that defense did not last long.
The same day the Globe ran its editorial, Romney held a press conference. Now he said his legal counsel had advised him the new emergency contraception law did trump the 1975 conscience law.
"On that basis, I have instructed the Department of Public Health to follow the conclusion of my own legal counsel and to adopt that sounder view," Romney said. "In my personal view, it's the right thing for hospitals to provide information and access to emergency contraception to anyone who is a victim of rape."
A true leader would have said: I will defend the First Amendment right of Catholics to freely exercise their religion -- against those who would force them to participate in abortions -- all the way to the Supreme Court.
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