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.

  • http://twitter.com/dreadhelm Josh Craddock

    The definitive body of research on Mitt Romney’s abortion record: http://prolifeprofiles.com/romney

    • Guest

      Not sure if I’d use that.  The same site attacks other respectable pro-life groups and individuals including Fr. Frank Pavone, Lila Rose, and Jill Stanek.  They effectively claim that anyone who endorses a law to increase restrictions on abortion isn’t fully pro-life unless the law completely ends all forms of abortion.  This is a very dangerous and misguided way of thinking.

      • Justin

        I agree. Though I don’t like the pattern, votes for particular bills can be misleading as there is usually more than meets the eye.

        Being an active Mormon, there is no way that Romney could truly be pro-choice. In fact, in the Mormon church abortion leads to being disfellowshipped or, more likely, excommunication.

        That said, he definitely seems weak on many issues, as if he is either afraid to lose support from the left or simply that he thinks he needs to show that he can compromise. Either way, I don’t want somebody who is weak. That’s why this Mormon wants Santorum to win!

      • http://twitter.com/dreadhelm Josh Craddock

        Which specific claims about Romney’s record are inaccurate? Please respond particularly in regards to his pro-abortion policies AFTER his alleged conversion.

  • http://twitter.com/eph4_15 Doyl L Watson II

    Romneys record EVEN AFTER  his supposed conversion does not merrit being so easily deceived and duped.  He knows that his Pro Death Position played a HUGE part in losing the nomination last time around. His Habitual LIES and general Deceitfulness also call into question EVERYTHING he says.

  • Oneignacio

    If you believe Romney is on the pro-life side, how do explain all his pro-abortion moves after his so-called converstion?

    • http://rightcal.blogspot.com/ Calvin Freiburger

      Which ones?

  • Oneignacio

    If you believe Romney is on the pro-life side, how do explain all his pro-abortion moves after his so-called converstion?

  • Erika Vega

    He may be somewhat personally pro-life but I don’t think he’s brave and strong enough to be politically pro-life to promote those values in the public sphere.  He seems like someone who would cave to whatever the crowd wills.  If it appeals to appear more pro-life to win votes, he allow himself to go in that direction but then I doubt he’d have the guts to follow through with any of it. I hate Republicans who try to take advantage of the Pro-life vote who don’t deserve it.  It’s just manipulative.

  • Guest

    I’m glad you posted an article like this.  There are many pro-lifers who
    seem to have a “once pro-abortion, always pro-abortion” mentality. 
    This is simply wrong.  People can and do have sincere changes of heart.  Abby Johnson, Bernard Nathanson, Ronald Reagan, Sam Brownback, Marjorie Dannenfelser, and Norma McCorvey all supported legal abortion (to varying extents) before becoming staunch pro-life advocates.  At the same time however, flip-flopping on issues solely for political convenience is extremely common.

    As a Christian, I really want to give Romney the benefit of the doubt (even if he might not deserve it).  At the same time however, I do see some major problems with his alleged conversion:

    1.  Exceptions for rape and incest.  This is a common position for Republican politicians (and Republican voters) to take, and it has great emotional appeal.  Everyone should have compassion for a victim of such a terrible crime, but Romney’s position is fundamentally wrong.  It relies on one of several false premises:

    – A baby conceived in rape isn’t fully human.
    – Two wrongs make a right.
    – Potentially reducing a rape victim’s suffering by eliminating the burden of pregnancy justifies killing an innocent person.
    – A fetus is not a person.
    – Babies are a punishment for promiscuous behaviour, not valuable humans.

    It is possible that Romney is simply misguided.  However, opposing abortion in these cases would demonstrate that he would protect an unborn child even when it could be detrimental to his career.

    2.  Refusal to attend pro-life events.

    At the last event of this type, he was the only candidate that didn’t show up:

    http://liveaction.org/blog/presidential-pro-life-forum-a-success/

    Even Ron Paul, who was busy in Washington D.C. with his duties as a congressman, managed to participate via telecast.  The only reasonable explanations are multiple coincidences (statistically unlikely) or that he’s trying to set himself apart from the others (as a more “moderate” choice for the GOP nomination).

    3.  Refusal to sign the SBA list pledge.

    Romney is the only candidate left in the race that didn’t sign.  There is nothing unreasonable in the document.  Candidates promised to appoint constitutionalists for judges, which tend to be anti-Roe.  This has always been expected of pro-life presidents.  It also included a pledge to ban abortion after 20 weeks based on fetal pain.  This should also be a low hanging fruit based on Gallup’s opinion polls.  Romney said that his chief concerns were with the other two items in the pledge:

    Defunding abortion (directly and indirectly).  Romney here claimed that this would result in hospitals being defunded.  The SBA List repudiated this, saying they do not expect candidates to support this and it is not part of the public debate.

    Appointing pro-life cabinet members to three key positions.  Romney’s excuse was that it would restrict his choice for attorney general (important for investigating abortion clinics).  The problem with this argument is that he signed a different candidate pledge, which would also restrict his choice of attorney general:

    http://www.marriagepledge.com/?utm_source=nationformarriage&utm_medium=banner&utm_campaign=side

    4.  Sketchy record.

    I realize that Romney’s record as a pro-life governor isn’t nearly as terrible as Newt Gingrich tries to portray it.  However, he didn’t do much as governor to actually lead on advancing pro-life legislation.  On the CNN debate last night, he said that Massachusetts is a difficult state to be pro-life in and he did the best he could.  I don’t buy his argument.  Pennsylvania is also a very pro-choice state.  Yet even there, pro-life governor Robert P. Casey pioneered several pro-life measures (parental consent, informed consent, and a ban on partial birth abortion).  He also challenged Roe v. Wade.  To top it all off, he was a liberal Democrat!

    With this being said, it would be dangerous for pro-lifers to refuse to vote for Romney if he becomes the Republican nominee.  As Scott Klusendorf said, a lousy fireman is better than a first class arsonist.  While we may never know for sure whether Romney is truly pro-life, it is undeniable that he would be preferable to a president that refuses to let states defund Planned Parenthood and always appoints pro-Roe activist judges.