Was Romney pro-life before he was kinda sorta pro-choice before he was pro-life?

Thanks to an NYT story this weekend, this bit of old news has been resurrected, showcased yesterday in a Peter Robinson post at Ricochet and then picked up by Rush Limbaugh this afternoon. The key quote is six years old and appeared in a story in National Review so it’s been on the right’s radar since well before Romney’s first presidential run. And yet, much like the mandate, somehow he didn’t get much grief over it last time when he was running as the conservative in the race.

Mr. Romney’s transformation on abortion is, in some respects, the story of a man who entered public life in a state whose politics did not match his own. [Story of his life. — AP] People close to Mr. Romney say they have no doubt that he opposes terminating a pregnancy. Critics and even some supporters say there is also little question that he did what he had to do to get elected as governor.

“He was always uncomfortable on the issue, but he was penned in by having run as a pro-choice candidate in 1994 and by the political realities of Massachusetts in 2002,” said Rob Gray, a senior adviser to Mr. Romney’s campaign for governor. “It was made clear to him by advisers early on in his gubernatorial race that he had to be pro-choice, and he could not show any hesitation.”…

In 2002, as a candidate for governor, Mr. Romney filled out a questionnaire for Planned Parenthood declaring that he supported “the substance” of the Supreme Court’s 1973 landmark abortion rights decision, Roe v. Wade. Six weeks before he was elected, he sat for an hourlong interview with state officials of the advocacy group now known as Naral Pro-Choice America…

By 2005, with Mr. Romney eyeing a possible presidential bid, he began to distance himself from his abortion rights platform. “My political philosophy is pro-life,” he told National Review, a conservative magazine, in an article that June. That same article quoted his top strategist at the time, Mike Murphy, as saying Mr. Romney had been “a pro-life Mormon faking it as a pro-choice friendly.”

I get the sense sometimes from Romney’s critics that they think he was pro-choice his whole life and then cynically flipped to pro-life in 2005 once he had decided to run for president. Nuh uh. Revisit this Times piece from last October describing his days as a Mormon leader in Boston in the 1980s and 1990s. Allegedly he once advised a woman against having an abortion even though her doctors had recommended it after discovering a dangerous blood clot. Assuming that’s true, he obviously took life in the womb very, very seriously. But … that only makes his “pro-choice friendly” attitude as governor worse, doesn’t it? Conservatives can, I think, happily accept former pro-choicers who’ve had a moral awakening about abortion. People do change their minds. I think they’d also tolerate (but not embrace) someone whom they suspected of being secretly pro-choice so long as he/she is committed to governing as pro-life. Romney falls into that category for many of his critics, I suspect. Even if you think he’s telling you what you want to hear on this issue, it’s inconceivable to me that he’d flip on the issue once in office. The betrayal would be cataclysmic, and he knows it. He’d be true blue pro-life to preserve his political viability, if nothing else.

But what about someone who’s been secretly pro-life all along yet who … tolerated abortion in the name of getting elected? Where does that person fall on the moral spectrum? This isn’t any ordinary issue that can be triangulated as necessary. To devout pro-lifers like Huckabee, abortion is a moral evil on the order of slavery. You can’t be “slavery-friendly” or “personally anti-slavery but politically pro-choice.” If you believe the practice is irredeemably, grievously wrong, you’re obliged morally to try to change the policy that enables it. So I wonder: Would it be better if Mitt had briefly but sincerely become pro-choice — or “pro-choice friendly” — while running in Massachusetts and then flipped, or if he’d never been pro-choice but had been willing to look the other way at abortion in the interest of his own political viability? It’s the difference between losing your moral bearings and selling them out. Which is worse?

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David Strom 3:21 PM on February 03, 2023