BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS, February 13, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) – As politicians in both political parties debate Mitt Romney’s role in implementing a 2005 statute requiring Catholic hospitals in Massachusetts to dispense Plan B - an “emergency contraceptive” that studies and the pill’s manufacturer have suggested can cause early abortions - a leader in the state’s pro-life movement puts the blame squarely on the former governor.

“The injury to the conscience rights of Catholic hospitals was not done so much so much by the church’s ideological enemies on the Left but by the Romney administration,” C.J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League, told LifeSiteNews.com. The real harm, he says, came from Romney’s private counsel’s interpretation of a 1975 law that would have respected their religious views.

“It wasn’t the liberals. It wasn’t some liberal court. It was not liberal legislators that caused this interpretation of law,” Doyle said. “It was the Romney administration” that “injured the conscience rights and religious freedom rights of Catholic hospitals here.”

In 2005, the then-governor ordered Catholic hospitals to offer the “morning-after” pill in the final act of a showdown between church and state that began 30 years earlier.

In 1975, the Massachusetts legislature passed a law exempting private hospitals from providing abortions or “contraceptive devices or information” if those practices run contrary to their “religious or moral principles.”

In 2005, a new state law required all hospitals to provide Plan B to rape victims.

At first Romney, who said throughout the legislative process that he had no opinion on the bill, vetoed it and wrote an op-ed in the Boston Globe explaining that he had pledged that he “would not change our abortion laws either to restrict abortion or to facilitate it.”

“I believe that abortion is the wrong choice except in cases of incest, rape, and to save the life of the mother,” he wrote. 

The heavily Democratic body voted to override his veto in September 2005.

A new religious exemption, supported by Romney, never passed. However, most Massachusetts politicians agreed with Public Health Commissioner Paul Cote Jr. that the 1975 and 2005 laws “don’t cancel each other out and basically work in harmony with each other,” meaning that the religious exemption still stood intact.

That consensus included the Massachusetts Catholic Conference and, according to family watchdog group MassResistance, and former governor Michael Dukakis.

The notable exception was Romney’s personal legal counsel, Mark D. Nielsen, who felt the new law invalidated its predecessor and provided no protection for Catholics.

“Romney, through his legal counsel, came up with this entirely novel, unprecedented, unheard of interpretation of the 1975 statute to indicate that it didn’t apply,” Doyle told LifeSiteNews. “This surprised, and astonished, and perplexed everyone.”

One week before the law was to take effect, Romney held a press conference saying, “I have instructed the Department of Public Health to follow the conclusion of my own legal counsel,” calling it a “sounder view.” The Boston Herald described Romney’s turnabout as “an Olympic-caliber double flip-flop with a gold medal-performance twist-and-a-half.”

Romney told the Herald the new legal analysis represented his private view on the issue, as well. “My personal view in my heart of hearts is that people who are subject to rape should have the option of having emergency contraceptives or emergency contraceptive information.”

The new position allowed the Romney administration to “have its cake and eat it, too,” Doyle told LifeSiteNews.com. His support for a new religious exemption, which could never pass the Democratic legislature, meant “Governor Romney could then run for president as a friend of religious freedom rights and traditional morality, while his lieutenant governor, to whom he was very close, Lt. Gov. Kerry Murphy Healey, could run for election as governor in 2006 in liberal Massachusetts without any downside from liberals and feminists on the emergency contraception issue.” Healey opposed Romney’s veto and supported the reversal.

The issue, which lay dormant for seven years, has found new life on both sides of the aisle during the contentious 2012 presidential race.

On the eve of sweeping three contests in Colorado, Minnesota, and Missouri, Rick Santorum wrote an op-ed stating President Obama’s HHS mandate was “not the first time that elected officials have trounced on the fundamental right to religious freedom. In December 2005, Governor Mitt Romney required all Massachusetts hospitals, including Catholic ones, to provide emergency contraception to rape victims.”

“Now, a few years later and running for president, his heart is strategically aligned with religious voters opposing this federal mandate,” he wrote. “It’s important to me that we don’t just talk a good game, but that we actually live it.”

The same day Newt Gingrich told voters in Cincinnati, “There’s been a lot of talk about the Obama administration’s attack on the Catholic Church. Well, the fact is, Governor Romney insisted that Catholic hospitals give out abortion pills, against their religious beliefs, when he was governor.” 

The Obama administration weighed in last Wednesday, when White House spokesman Jay Carney dubbed Romney “an odd messenger” and branded his criticism “ironic,” because Obama’s policy “is virtually identical to the one that was in place when he was governor of Massachusetts.”

Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul responded, “We expect these attacks from President Obama and his liberal friends. But from Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, it’s a clear indication of desperation from their campaigns.” Romney told reporters in Atlanta Carney “needs to check his history.” He said “that provision was put in Massachusetts before I was governor, and then when I was governor I tried to have it removed in our health care plan.”

David French, who organized “Evangelicals for Mitt” in the last election cycle, wrote in National Review Online that Romney “did all he reasonably could.” The overwhelmingly Democratic legislature overrode his veto. He added, “Massachusetts regulations, the Church Amendment, and Directive 36 combine to create a number of potential loopholes and workarounds.” Had Romney been more confrontational, these may have been stripped away.

Doyle – who served as a Democratic ward secretary and worked with pro-life Democratic state representative Jim Craven – said the idea that “Romney was really trying to help us” by heeding his personal lawyer’s view is “something the evidence doesn’t really point to.”

“I think if there’s a choice between an obscure and arcane explanation and a simple and obvious one, I’m more inclined to take the simple and obvious one,” Doyle told LifeSiteNews.

He noted a similar situation took place when the Massachusetts legislature mandated that Catholic adoption agencies place children with homosexual couples. Romney again asked for a conscience measure, which did not pass. However, he cited a state regulation that compelled Catholic agencies to comply with the law, contrary to their beliefs. At the time, Michael Dukakis – who removed a child from the home of homosexual foster parents as governor – said, “there’s nothing in there to the best of my knowledge that mandates anything” of the sort. He said, “If it’s a regulation, governors can change regulations if they want to. That’s up to him.” Observers said legal action may have ensued if Romney changed the regulation. Enforcing that rule ended 100 years of adoption services by Catholic Charities in Boston. Dukakis observed at the time, “I just don’t know who we’re serving here.”

In his speech at CPAC Friday afternoon, Mitt Romney said, “I defended the Catholic Church’s right to serve their community in ways that were consistent with their conscience through adoption programs that placed children in a home with a mom and a dad.” The previous night he told Fox News’ Neil Cavuto, ”I fought on every basis I possibly could for life…and religious liberty,” against “exactly the same thing this president is trying to do.”

“People say that Mitt Romney is a flip-flopper,” Doyle said. “ I think that’s very unjust. I think he’s been a very consistent politician. He consistently works both sides of the street on the same issue. He is consistently cynical and expedient and self-serving.”

Doyle said, “While what Obama is doing certainly is an assault on our consciences, I’m not sure Governor Romney is the person to assert that, given his record.”