Mitt Romney explains an answer at Saturday night's GOP debate in Manchester,… (Win McNamee / Getty Images )
It was an exchange reminiscent of Abbott and Costello’s famous Who’s on First routine. George Stephanopoulos repeatedly asked Mitt Romney about whether he thinks that states have the right to ban contraception, and Romney repeatedly replied that he had no idea why Stephanopoulos would ask such a question.
In fact, Stephanopoulos was prodding Romney about whether he believes there is a constitutional right to privacy as the U.S. Supreme Court has found in two landmark cases, 1973’s Roe vs. Wade, and 1965’s Griswold vs. Connecticut , which found that states do not have the right to ban contraception. In that case, the court cited a right to “marital privacy.”
In recent days, Rick Santorum has raised Griswold on the campaign trail in New Hampshire. He believes Griswold and Roe were incorrectly decided by the Supreme Court because, in his view, the Constitution does not contain a privacy right.
But when Stephanopoulos asked Romney about this issue, Romney seemed to have absolutely no idea what he was talking about.
“George, this is an unusual topic that you’re raising,” Romney said. “States have the right to ban contraception? I can’t imagine that states would want to ban contraception. If I were a governor or a legislator in a state, I would totally oppose any effort to ban contraception. So you’re asking -- given the fact that there’s no state that wants to do so -- you are asking could it constitutionally be done? We could we could ask our constitutionalist here,” said Romney, gesturing to Ron Paul. The audience erupted in laughter and applause.
Stephanopoulos could not be dissuaded from pursuing his question.
“I am asking you, do you believe states have that right or not?”
Romney seemed perplexed, and annoyed: “George, I don’t know whether the state has the right to ban contraception. No state wants to. The idea of you putting forward things that states might want to do that no state wants to do is kind of a silly thing, I think.”
At that point, as the audience applauded, things got a little strained.
“You went to Harvard Law School,” admonished Stephanopoulos. “You know very well …”
“Has the Supreme Court decided that the states do not have the right to ban contraception?” asked Romney.
“Yes, they have,” replied Stephanopoulos. “1965. Griswold vs Connecticut.”
Romney seemed frustrated. He lectured Stephanopoulos about how Americans have the right to amend the Constitution, and that he favors amending it to ban same-sex marriage. “But I know of no reason to talk about contraceptions…Contraception, it’s working just fine, just leave it alone.”
As the audience laughed, Stephanopoulos persisted like a dog with a bone: “Do you believe the Supreme Court should overturn it or not?”
“Do I believe the Supreme Court should overturn Roe v Wade?” Romney said. “Yes, I do.”