The Magazine

Mitt Romney's Conversion

His pro-life turn is more recent than you think.

Feb 5, 2007, Vol. 12, No. 20 • By JENNIFER RUBIN
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Whereupon Romney said: "Let me make this very clear: I will preserve and protect a woman's right to choose." O'Brien noted Romney's 1994 endorsement by the pro-life Massachusetts Citizens for Life and mentioned that Romney had written a letter to a Salt Lake City newspaper in 2001 asking that he not be referred to as "pro-choice."

Romney responded that his opponent was "shamelessly trying to play on voter fears about abortion rights." He added that he "do[es] not take the position of a pro-life candidate." Romney's running mate, Kerry Healey, was quoted at the time of the debates as saying: "There isn't a dime of difference between Mitt Romney's position on choice and Shannon O'Brien['s]."

In addition to abortion rights, in 2002 Romney sang the praises of embryonic stem cell research, showing no concern that such research resulted in the destruction of embryos. On June 13, 2002, Romney spoke at a bioethics forum at Brandeis University. In a Boston Globe story filed the next day, he was quoted as saying that he endorsed embryonic stem cell research, hoping it would one day cure his wife's multiple sclerosis. And he went on to say: "I am in favor of stem cell research. I will work and fight for stem cell research," before adding, "I'd be happy to talk to [President Bush] about this, though I don't know if I could budge him an inch." When pressed, however, Romney and his aides declined to offer an opinion on "therapeutic" or embryonic cloning.

Romney won the 2002 Massachusetts gubernatorial election by more than 100,000 votes, many from pro-choice supporters. Jennifer Blei Stockman, national co-chair of Republican Majority for Choice, recalls Romney personally calling to thank her group after the election, saying, "We made a difference."

Two years into his governorship, in February 2005, Romney announced his opposition to stem cell research. Then, to the dismay of his pro-choice supporters, he vetoed a July 2005 bill making available Plan B or "morning after" contraception. Also that year, in an op-ed for the Boston Globe, he declared himself pro-life.

Romney says he changed his mind in November 2004, when he met with a scientist from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute. Romney claimed in a June 2006 interview that the researcher had told him: "'Look, you don't have to think about this stem cell research as a moral issue, because we kill the embryos after 14 days.'" Romney went on to say that both he and his chief of staff had an epiphany, recognizing that embryonic stem cell research cheapened respect for human life. However, the scientist with whom Romney had met, Dr. Douglas Melton, disputed Romney's story. A spokesman for the institute confirmed Dr. Melton's account, saying, "The words 'kill' and 'killing' are not in Dr. Melton's professional vocabulary, a vocabulary used to discuss finding cures for diseases in order to save lives."

Was Romney an unseasoned politician who changed his views upon deep reflection? Stockman, of Republican Majority for Choice, thinks not. "He was a grown man in 2002 and very thoughtful and introspective," Stockman says, "so the fact that he says he hadn't thought through these issues seems very odd." Melissa Kogut, NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts's executive director, says, "It is conventional wisdom that candidates in Massachusetts need to be pro-choice to win. He ran as pro-choice. As he began exploring the run for president, he changed. No matter where you stand on this issue, you should question where he stands." Angus McQuilken of Planned Parenthood says, "When a candidate or elected official can move so easily from one position to the opposite overnight, it leaves voters wondering whether he has any core values."

Asked recently about Healey's not "a dime of difference" remark during the 2002 campaign, Romney's opponent Shannon O'Brien told me: "Apparently there was a lot more than a dime's worth. Probably enough to put my daughter through college."

Jennifer Rubin is a writer in Virginia.