GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney “reaffirmed” his staunch pro-life abortion position on Wednesday, saying his stance on the hot-button issue hasn’t changed. At least not since he became pro-life midway through his political career.
Like on many issues—taxes, health care, stem-cell research, minimum wage, immigration reform, etc.—Romney has flipped-flopped positions in a seemingly concerted effort to appeal to a certain ideological group of voters. This is not an earth-shattering revelation by any stretch of the imagination, as evidenced during the presidential primary when his Republican rivals challenged him on his evolving abortion stance. And after Romney suggested Tuesday that abortion-related legislation would not be a major part of his presidency, he was forced once again to clarify his position.
“I think I’ve said time and again. I’m a pro-life candidate. I’ll be a pro-life president,” Romney said Wednesday, attempting to convince social values conservative voters once again, perhaps for the final time, that he’s their man.
But that wasn’t always the case. Once upon a time, Romney was running for political office in a liberal state where being pro-life is political poison. During his campaign for the U.S. Senate against liberal stalwart Ted Kennedy in 1994, it suited Romney to be pro-choice. And so he was. Here’s Romney in one debate telling potential voters that he believes abortion in this country should be “safe and legal.”
But that’s just scratching the surface. During the 2002 Massachusetts gubernatorial debate, Romney makes it crystal clear that he still supports a woman’s right to choose.
And here he is again in 2002, this time with wife Ann, who tells voters they have no reason to be concerned about her husband’s stance on social issues. Why? Because Romney is pro-choice and therefore in line with the majority of Massachusetts residents.
But by 2005, Romney evidently had a change of heart. Or perhaps his political ambitions took a turn toward the national stage and he knew it was time to appeal to pro-life, family-values conservatives. Either way, he wrote in an Op-Ed article for The Boston Globe that “I understand that my views on laws governing abortion set me in the minority in our Commonwealth. I am prolife [sic]. I believe that abortion is the wrong choice except in cases of incest, rape, and to save the life of the mother.”
Here’s Romney’s explanation for the switch: “My position changed during the stem-cell research debate. The provost of Harvard and the head of stem-cell research came into my office and at one point said that stem-cell research was not a moral issue because they killed the embryo at 14 days. And it hit me hard at that very moment that the Roe v. Wade philosophy had cheapened the value of human life. And I said to my chief of staff, who was with me in the meeting, as we came outside, ‘I am no longer content with the description of my position. I want to call myself pro-life.’ Every action I’ve taken as governor has been a pro-life action.”
Two years later, Romney’s evolution on the abortion issue was complete. During one of the 2008 Republican presidential debates, the once pro-choice Romney was ready to sign a bill outlawing the procedure in this country, though he would “settle” for having the Supreme Court overturn Roe vs. Wade.
But perhaps the most striking thing that Romney said about abortion during the 2008 presidential race was when he flat-out denied ever being pro-choice, telling conservative talk radio host Don Imus, “Well, you know, I never really called myself pro-choice, but I did say when I was running for governor that I would keep the law as it was.”
That claim, to put it nicely, is misleading. As Richard Reeves noted in his latest Truthdig piece on Romney, “The man is a serial liar in a society that increasingly tolerates lying and cheating.” But regardless of whether Romney actually used the term “pro-choice” or not, he made it clear to Massachusetts voters that he would protect a women’s right to choose. Once it became politically beneficial for him to be pro-life, he was that, too.
Given the recent assault against women’s rights by conservatives, Romney’s ever-changing position on abortion should be enough to raise an alarm for female voters across the country. Let’s not forget, after all, that he is the presidential nominee for a party that, as part of its platform, expressly endorses a ban on all abortion, even in instances of rape and incest. But while Romney says he favors such exceptions, the same cannot be said of his running mate Paul Ryan (who, remember, also introduced legislation to change the definition of rape).
As a political candidate, Romney has been running circles around the abortion issue for nearly two decades. How do we know Romney won’t change his position yet again if elected? The answer is, we don’t. We’ll just have to trust the man who perennially changes his views to fit the ever-changing political tides. And at a time when the Republican Party is advocating forcible transvaginal probes for women seeking abortions, well ... that’s an unsettling thought.