In Debate, ABC's Stephanopoulos Presses Romney on 1965 Contraception Ruling

During Saturday's Republican presidential debate in New Hampshire, hosted by ABC, co-moderator George Stephanopoulos bizarrely pressed candidate Mitt Romney on whether the former Massachusetts governor believes the U.S. Supreme Court should overturn a 1965 ruling that a constitutional right to privacy bars states from banning contraception. (Video below)

 

Romney, befuddled by the off the wall nature of the question on such an issue that is not on any state's legislative agenda, eventually observed that it was a "silly thing" for the ABC co-moderator to ask such an irrelevant question. Stephanopoulos's odd persistence which dragged on the discussion with Romney for more than three and a half minutes inspired a number of boos from the audience before Ron Paul and Rick Santorum were then allowed to weigh in.

And, although former Senator Santorum has made clear that he would be opposed to banning contraception, as contraception merely violates his religious beliefs without entering into his public policy agenda, Stephanopoulos set up the line of questioning to Romney by referring to Santorum's views:

Senator Santorum has been very clear in his belief that the Supreme Court was wrong when it decided that a right to privacy was embedded in the Constitution. And, following from that, he believes that states have the right to ban contraception. Now, I should add that he's said that he's not recommending that states do that.

After the former Pennsylvania Senator tried to jump in to clarify his views, the ABC moderator continued:

But I do want to get that core question. Governor Romney, do you believe that states have the right to ban contraception? Or is that trumped by a constitutional right to privacy?

As Romney resisted giving a definitive answer to such a question on an obscure Supreme Court ruling, noting the "unusual topic," Stephanopoulos persisted, leading the former  Massachusetts governor to call the question "a silly thing":

I don't know whether the states have a right to ban contraception. No state wants to. I mean, the idea of you putting forward things that states might want to do that no state wants to do and asking me whether they could do it or not, is kind of a silly thing, I think.

Stephanopoulos started to lecture Romney a bit:

Hold on a second. Governor, you went to Harvard Law School. You know very well this is based on-

After some additional back and forth, during which Romney recounted his stance against the right to privacy concept of Roe v. Wade while declining to say that the ruling on contraception deserved to be overturned, the ABC moderator ended up complaining that Romney had "given two answers to the question." Stephanopoulos:

I understand that, but you're still, you've given two answers to the question. Do you believe that the Supreme Court should overturn it or not?

A number of audience members could then be heard booing, and then Ron Paul and Santorum were allowed to join the discussion.

Below are both video and a transcript of the relevant back and forth exchange between Stephanopoulos and Romney from the Saturday, January 7 Republican presidential debate on ABC:

GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: Governor Romney, I want to go straight to you. Senator Santorum has been very clear in his belief that the Supreme Court was wrong when it decided that a right to privacy was embedded in the Constitution. And following from that, he believes that states have the right to ban contraception. Now, I should add that he's said that he's not recommending that states do that. (SANTORUM STARTS TO  JUMP IN BUT IS INAUDIBLE) Well, I'll, I'll, absolutely, I'm giving you your due.

RICK SANTORUM: We're talking about the Tenth Amendment and the right of (INAUDIBLE).

STEPHANOPOULOS: But I do want to get that core question. Governor Romney, do you believe that states have the right to ban contraception? Or is that trumped by a constitutional right to privacy?

MITT ROMNEY: George, this is an unusual topic that you're raising. States have a right to ban contraception? I can't imagine a state banning contraception. I can't imagine the circumstances where a state would want to do so, and if I were governor of a state-

STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, the Supreme Court had ruled on that ... (INAUDIBLE)

ROMNEY: -or a legislator of a state, I would totally and completely oppose any effort to ban contraception. So you're asking, given the fact that there's no state that wants to do so, and I don't know of any candidate that wants to do so. You're asking: Could it constitutionally be done? We can ask our constitutionlist here. (AUDIENCE LAUGHS AS ROMNEY TURNS TO RON PAUL)

STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm sure Congressman Paul ... (INAUDIBLE) ... but I'm asking you: Do states have that right or not?

ROMNEY: George, I don't know whether the states have a right to ban contraception. No state wants to. I mean, the idea of you putting forward things that states might want to do that no state wants to do and asking me whether they could do it or not, is kind of a silly thing I think. (AUDIENCE APPLAUSE)

STEPHANOPOULOS: Hold on a second. Governor, you went to Harvard Law School. You know very well this is based on-

ROMNEY: Has the Supreme Court, has the Supreme Court decided that the states do not have the right to provide contraception?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Yes, they have, in 1965, Griswald v. Connecticut.

ROMNEY: I believe in the, that the law of the land is as spoken by the Supreme Court, and that if we disagree with the Supreme Court - and occasionally I do - then we have a process under the Constitution to change that decision, and it's known as the amendment process, and where we have - for instance, right now, we're having issues that relate to same-sex marriage. My view is we should have a Federal amendment to the Constitution defining marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman. But I know of no reason to talk about contraceptions...

STEPHANOPOULOS: Would you accept the Supreme Court decision finding a right to privacy in the Constitution?

ROMNEY: I don't believe they decided that correctly. In my view, Roe v. Wade was improperly decided. It was based upon that same principle. And, in my view, if we had justices like Roberts and Alito, Thomas and Scalia, and more justices like that, they might well decide to return this issue to states as opposed to saying it's in the Federal Constitution. And, by the way, if the people say it should be in the Federal Constitution, then instead of having unelected judges stuff it in there when it's not there, we should allow the people to express their own views through amendment and add it to the Constitution. But this idea that justices-

STEPHANOPOULOS: Should that be done in this case?

ROMNEY: Pardon?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Should that be done in this case?

ROMNEY: Should this be done in this case to allow states to ban contraception? No. States don't want to ban contraception, so why would we try to put it in the Constitution? With regards to gay marriage, I've told you that's when I would amend the Constitution. Contraception, it's working just fine. Just leave it alone.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I understand that, but you're still, you've given two answers to the question. Do you believe that the Supreme Court should overturn it or not?
 
ROMNEY: Do I believe the Supreme Court should overturn, do I believe the Supreme Court should overturn Roe v. Wade? Yes, I do.