For much of the last year, former Massachusetts governor and perceived Republican presidential nominee front-runner Mitt Romney has been criticized for his affinity for flip-flopping on vital issues. In light of abortion and contraception dominating front page headlines recently, Mr. Romney’s stance—or perhaps more appropriately, stances—on abortion is worth reviewing.
As long ago as 1994, when he was running for Senate, Mr. Romney aligned himself with Massachusetts Republican Governor William Weld, who, against party line, supported gay rights and was very much pro-choice on abortion. Mr. Romney’s opinion was strong enough to provoke this line: “I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country; I have since the time that my mom took that position when she ran in 1970 as a U.S. Senate candidate. I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years, that we should sustain and support it.”
Eight years later while campaigning for governor, his views were very much the same. “I will preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose, and am devoted and dedicated to honoring my word in that regard. I will not change any provisions of Massachusetts’ pro-choice laws,” he said.
Since then, Mr. Romney’s views on abortion have undergone a 180; he now considers himself a “pro-life governor” who wishes “the laws of our nation could reflect that view.” But what brought about this turnaround? Was it simply a natural shift in opinion, or was it perhaps dictated by ulterior motives? When exactly did the shift occur?
Mr. Romney himself says that his views shifted on November 9, 2004, after discussing stem cell research with Douglas Melton—a stem cell researcher at Harvard. According to the former governor, Melton declared that the research “is not a moral issue because we kill the embryos after 14 days.” Speaking further, Mr. Romney asserts that, “I looked over…and we [Romney & his chief staff] both had exactly the same reaction, which is just it hit us hard. And as they walked out, I said… ‘We have cheapened the sanctity of life by virtue of the Roe v. Wade mentality.'”
To his credit, Mr. Romney pledged to continue his previous pledge to the people of Massachusetts but affirmed his newfound status as a pro-life advocate. As the saying goes, actions speak louder than words, and he kept his promise throughout his tenure as governor; in July of 2005, he vetoed an emergency contraception bill, claiming that allowing it to pass into law would violate his “moratorium” on changes to the state’s abortion laws. At the time of the veto, however, he said he did not support abortion except in cases of rape, incest and when the mother’s life is threatened.
Back in October, Mr. Romney was interviewed by former Arkansas governor and one-time Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee on Fox News and said, “I’d make sure that the progress that has been made to provide for life and to protect human life is not progress that would be reversed…My view is that the Supreme Court should reverse Roe v. Wade…”
Since this turnaround, Mr. Romney has fully embraced his pro-life status. In fact, only last week he clashed with President Obama over whether religiously affiliated hospitals should be required to provide free contraceptives, which with a large bias Mr. Romney calls “abortive pills.”
In addition, following Susan G. Komen’s temporary withdrawal of funds to Planned Parenthood, Mr. Romney called on the federal government to follow suit. “The idea that we’re subsidizing an institution that provides abortion, in my view, is wrong,” he said. Not surprisingly, only ten years ago the former Bain CEO answered a Planned Parenthood questionnaire by declaring he supported “state funding of abortion services.”
Despite what Mr. Romney cites as an epiphany influencing his turnaround, it may indeed be a case of political gamesmanship. In this campaign, he is working tirelessly to win over the more socially conservative voters of the GOP by aligning himself more closely with the radical anti-abortion views of Rick Santorum. Yet this has proved to be something of a double-edge sword, for the farther right Mr. Romney goes in his abortion views, the more he is subjected to calls of “flip-flopper” from fellow nominee hopefuls.