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Romneycare and Abortion

Iowa’s social conservatives weigh the candidates.

Dec 12, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 13 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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French argues that by going to the Heritage Foundation for advice and using what leverage he had, Romney got the best deal he could in Massachusetts. “Doing nothing wasn’t a realistic alternative,” he says. “People need to get over the idea that he’s coming out of Texas. He’s coming out of Massachusetts.”

“I don’t think it is fair to say that Governor Romney just expanded taxpayer funding for abortion as though that was kind of a directly intended policy decision on his part,” says Ramesh Ponnuru, senior editor at National Review and author of The Party of Death. “I certainly take the point that Massachusetts law requires abortion funding under Medicaid, and that is a reason not to expand Medicaid,” he says. “But you have to be careful about the principle that you’re acting on here. You don’t want to say something like you don’t want, let’s say, a free market insurance policy that leads to more people getting insurance” because some private insurance policies cover abortions.

The question for socially conservative Republicans isn’t whether Romney’s perfect—it’s compared to what. Romney’s chief rival at the moment, Newt Gingrich, doesn’t have a spotless record as a social conservative. Gingrich himself has a strong pro-life record, but in 2009 he endorsed liberal Republican congressional candidate Dede Scozzafava, who supported direct taxpayer funding of elective abortions. (Gingrich later said he regretted the endorsement.)

Gingrich also supported federal funding for research on stem cells that involved the killing of human embryos. In an interview with ABC News on December 2, Gingrich made some confusing remarks on the issue. He said that life does not begin when a human embryo is created, but rather when an embryo successfully implants in utero. Then Gingrich called embryo-destructive research “dehumanizing” and said he opposed it.

For Romney, embryonic stem cell research is the issue that led to his pro-life conversion. Mary Ann Glendon, Harvard law professor and former ambassador to the Vatican, says it took “political courage” for Romney to veto funding for embryonic research as governor. “Embryonic stem cell research was a big topic here in Massachusetts because we have a big biotech industry,” says Glendon, a Romney supporter during both of his presidential bids. “So for him to make that a central point of his own [pro-life conversion] was not a politically prudent position in his own state.” Pointing to Ronald Reagan’s signing of a liberal abortion law as California governor, David French says, “Mitt Romney has a much better record as governor of Massachusetts than Ronald Reagan had in California.”

Another issue that could hurt Gingrich among social conservatives is his history of infidelity and two divorces. “There is a large and significant gender gap on the issue of your two previous marriages,” Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention wrote in an open letter to Gingrich. “My research would indicate a majority of men, but less than a third of Evangelical women, are currently willing to trust you as their president.”

“There’s no doubt we’re very concerned about his past,” says Bob Vander Plaats, who has worked with Gingrich on a number of issues. “However, part of our faith is forgiveness. He did not have a road to Des Moines conversion. He’s had five, six, seven years where he’s been repentant, he’s been humble, he’s been transparent, he’s shown a level of maturity.

“It appears that he has a strong relationship and marriage with Callista, he has a restored relationship with his children, a great relationship with his grandchildren. And so if his life change is authentic, then I think part of our faith is that we need to forgive and move forward,” Vander Plaats continues. “Part of it is he’s 68, not 58 or 48 either. As one soccer mom, who’s supporting Gingrich, said to me, ‘Bob, I really believe his childish ways are behind him.’ ”

For now, the thrice-married Catholic convert and former speaker is leading the formerly pro-choice Mormon from Massachusetts by double digits. But that could change. The position of Iowa frontrunner has been held by Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Herman Cain each for about one month. The first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses are exactly one month away.

John McCormack is a staff writer at The Weekly Standard.

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