Charting Romney’s Evolution On Abortion

CBS News’ Brian Montopoli notices that during last night’s GOP presidential debate, Mitt Romney tried to claim that he has always personally opposed abortions, even as he positioned himself as a pro-choice candidate in 1994 and 2002:

Asked to show he wouldn’t change positions in the future, Romney responded: “You know, the issue where I change my mind, which obviously draws a lot of attention was that when I was running for governor, I said I would leave the law in place as it related to abortion. And I thought I could go in that narrow path between my personal belief and letting government stay out of the issue.”

It’s possible that Romney himself opposed abortion, given his strong religious convictions and the anti-abortion tenets of the Mormon faith — Mormon doctrine states that abortion can be justified in cases of rape or incest, when the health of the mother is in danger, or if the fetus will not survive beyond birth. But as Montopoli points out, that’s not the impression Romney hoped to leave with Massachusetts voters. He argued that his private beliefs would not affect his official duties as an elected official:

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,” he said then. “I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years, that we should sustain and support it.”

At the time, Romney explained his support for abortion rights by pointing to a personal experience.

“I have my own beliefs, and those beliefs are very dear to me,” he said. “One of them is that I do not impose my beliefs on other people. Many, many years ago, I had a dear, close family relative that was very close to me who passed away from an illegal abortion. It is since that time that my mother and my family have been committed to the belief that we can believe as we want, but we will not force our beliefs on others on that matter. And you will not see me wavering on that.”

Boston Globe reporters Michael Kranish and Scott Helman add some context to Romney’s “evolution” towards his current anti-abortion stance in The Real Romney. As a Mormon stake president in Boston, for instance, Romney counseled a woman whose pregnancy posed a health risk to avoid abortion. As the woman explained, “Here I—a baptized, endowed, dedicated worker, and tithe-payer in the church—lay helpless, hurt, and frightened, trying to maintain my psychological equilibrium, and his concern was for the eight-week possibility in my uterus—not for me!” “The woman told Romney, she wrote, that her stake president, a doctor, had already told her, ‘Of course, you should have this abortion and then recover from the blood clot and take care of the healthy children you already have.” Romney, she said, fired back, “I don’t believe you. He wouldn’t say that. I’m going to call him.’ And then he left.” Romney later claimed that he couldn’t recall the incident but has “acknowledged having counseled Mormon women not to have abortions except in exceptional cases, in accordance with church rules.”

The rest of Romney’s pro-choice record is better known. During his 1994 campaign, Romney said the question of Medicaid abortion funding should be left to the states and “endorsed the legalization of RU-486, the abortion-inducing drug, and appeared in June at a fund-raiser for Planned Parenthood. Ann Romney gave the group $150.” In 2001, Romney — eying higher office after his success at the Olympics — initially objected to a newspaper editorial describing him as “pro-choice”, but as a gubernatorial candidate “expressed support for Medicaid funding for the procedure, efforts to expand access to emergency contraception, and the restoration of state funding for family-planning and teen pregnancy prevention programs.”

Romney eventually said that a meeting with an embryonic stem-cell scientist convinced him to come out publicly in support of “life.” In 2005, he began calling himself “firmly pro-life” and even returned from vacation to veto a bill “to make the so-called morning-after pill available over the counter at Massachusetts pharmacies and to require hospitals to make it available to rape victims.” Romney had answered “yes” “to a question on their questionnaire about whether he supported expanding access to emergency contraception” only three years earlier. Romney’s aides were also “telling the national political press that he would have signed a controversial bill in South Dakota that outlawed abortion even in cases of rape or incest but then sought those exceptions through separate legislation.”

During a recent appearance on Fox News’ Huckabee in October of last year, Romney reiterated his newfound “pro-life” credentials, saying he would have supported an amendment to the Massachusetts constitution that would have established life as beginning at conception.