Is Mitt Romney’s Pro-Life Conversion Sincere?

Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney’s progress through the Republican presidential primary has left many pro-lifers uneasy. Though it seems increasingly likely that he’ll be the GOP nominee, we just can’t seem to shake the fear that he’s not really one of us. Let’s see if a closer look at his background can shed some light on the matter.

The Prosecution

First, pre-2005 Romney sounds awfully certain about upholding Roe v. Wade and preserving “a woman’s right to choose” in those YouTube clips we’ve all seen. In an unusually evenhanded profile, the left-wing ThinkProgress notes the candidate’s prior support for RU-486 and state Medicaid funding for abortion.

Second, Romney’s current pro-life platform isn’t 100%—he supports rape & incest exceptions, and last year wouldn’t sign the Susan B. Anthony List’s life pledge because he wanted the leeway to appoint pro-choicers to the Justice Department and claimed the language would unintentionally cut off medical funding unrelated to abortion.

Third, and most importantly, the Washington Examiner’s Byron York reports the following revelation in Boston journalist Ronald Scott’s book on Romney:

According to Scott, Romney revealed that polling from Richard Wirthlin, Ronald Reagan’s former pollster whom Romney had hired for the ’94 campaign, showed it would be impossible for a pro-life candidate to win statewide office in Massachusetts. In light of that, Romney decided to run as a pro-choice candidate, pledging to support Roe v. Wade, while remaining personally pro-life.

That would definitely seem to reinforce the fear that Romney’s pro-life “conversion” wasn’t a conversion at all; just a recalculation of what he had to say to win over a new audience. If Romney did it before, surely he could do it again.

The Defense

Here’s Romney’s justification for preserving abortion:

Many, many years ago, I had a dear, close family relative that was very close to me who passed away from an illegal abortion. It is since that time that my mother and my family have been committed to the belief that we can believe as we want, but we will not force our beliefs on others on that matter.

It’s certainly easy to see how the 1963 death of 21-year-old Ann Keenan would have colored the judgment of her surviving relatives, especially in the years before modern embryology irreversibly shifted the life question from theological conviction to scientific certainty.

In fact, that modern science is precisely what Romney claims sparked his conversion. Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker writes that when the issue of embryonic stem-cell research hit Massachusetts, Romney “sought to educate himself before staking out a position”:

Enter William Hurlbut, a physician and professor of biomedical ethics at Stanford University Medical School. For several hours, Hurlbut and Romney met in the governor’s office and went through the dynamics of conception, embryonic development and the repercussions of research that targets nascent human life.

According to Hurlbut, “it was obvious” that Romney “put in a real effort to understand” the issue, leaving the doctor “impressed by both his clarity of mind and sincerity of heart.” Massachusetts pro-life leaders have affirmed that Romney governed as a pro-lifer after he changed sides, as has National Right to Life Committee co-founder Dr. John Willke.

Lastly, ThinkProgress recounts an incident during Romney’s time as a Mormon stake president in Boston, in which he aggressively tried to counsel a woman against aborting her baby, even after another church official had granted her permission to have the abortion because of a blood clot complicating her pregnancy.

Conclusion

So who’s the real Mitt Romney? Is he a pro-lifer who tricked pro-aborts into electing him, or a pro-abort who’s now trying to trick pro-lifers? Personally, I believe he’s the former. His personal background suggests a natural aversion to abortion, with his initial acquiescence to abortion based on the calculation that he wouldn’t be able to do much for the unborn anyway in a state that opposed the right-to-life like Massachusetts—a compromise he chose to abandon after the march of embryo-destructive research drove home how, in his words, “the Roe v. Wade mentality has so cheapened the value of human life that rational people saw human life as  mere research material to be used, then destroyed,” which “could soon lead to racks and racks of living human embryos, Brave New World-like, awaiting termination.”

To be sure, other candidates have stronger pro-life records, all the Republican candidates have indicated that they would move abortion law in a pro-life direction, and everyone has different strengths and weaknesses on other important issues facing our country. Every pro-lifer will have to make his or her own decision about who to vote for. But whatever else may be said about him, Mitt Romney is on the pro-life side and, I believe, here to stay.

NOTE: Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the position of Live Action. Live Action does not endorse Federal candidates.