By Eileen McNamara, Globe Columnist | September 27, 2006
Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey can try to run from Governor Mitt Romney's record, but she cannot walk away from her own words.
Among the many miscalculations made by the Republican candidate for governor in Monday night's first televised debate was her assertion that abortion is now and always has been the biggest policy disagreement between her and Romney. Healey must be confused. Given the governor's shifting position on abortion rights in the last dozen years, it would hardly be surprising if his deputy had trouble recalling where he stood when.
However, she should have less trouble remembering what she said when.
``There isn't a dime of difference between Mitt Romney's position on choice and Shannon O'Brien," Healey told the Associated Press about her running mate and his Democrat opponent when she was helping to market Romney as an abortion-rights supporter in the 2002 campaign that sent them both to Beacon Hill.
If that was true then, what is true now?
``Well, I think where we disagree is pretty clear. We've always disagreed on choice, and I think those differences have only become more stark over time," she said of Romney on Monday night during the debate with her rivals for the governor's office, Deval Patrick, the Democrat; Christy Mihos, the independent; and Grace Ross of the Green-Rainbow Party.
``Either she wasn't honest then, or she isn't being honest now," said Angus McQuilken, public affairs director for the Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts. ``Either way, what we need is real leadership on these issues, not political posturing."
What has become starker over time is the willingness of both Romney and Healey to say whatever suits them politically about abortion at any given time. He will not get away with it in his delusional bid for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, any more than she will this fall in her uphill race for governor. Romney likes to assert on the national campaign trail that he has been ``a prolife governor in a prochoice state," but Michael Murphy, a former Romney political adviser, blew the governor's cover last year when he told an interviewer: ``He's been a prolife Mormon faking it as a prochoice friendly" in Massachusetts.
It is not unreasonable to ask whether Healey has been faking it, too. Earlier this year, the Boston Herald reported that in a videotaped debate rehearsal in 2002, Healey said she favored lowering the age of consent for abortion from 18 to 16, the same position that cost O'Brien critical support that year. Healey has never repeated that position in public and has endorsed current state law, which establishes 18 as the age of consent.
She has consistently supported the 1973 US Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, but isn't it fair to ask whether she turned a blind eye to Romney's real feelings about abortion out of political expediency four years ago? If so, what does that say either about the depth of her commitment to abortion rights or her capacity for political independence? If not, why hasn't she denounced the governor for intentionally misleading Massachusetts voters?
Those are some of the questions abortion-rights activists have been trying, without success, to ask Healey. She has refused to fill out their questionnaires or to meet with representatives of Planned Parenthood or NARAL Pro-Choice.
Melissa Kogut of NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts said it is not enough for Healey ``to say she has always been prochoice. She has no voting record of her own, and she has been serving in an antichoice administration. We're frustrated. Why wouldn't she take every opportunity to talk about her views on the full range of reproductive health issues?"
Why, indeed. Much has been made of the historic contest in Massachusetts this year between a female and a black man for the corner office in the State House. The election of a woman or an African-American would be a first for the Commonwealth. A woman won't get there ducking women's questions.
Eileen McNamara can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.