Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Mitt Romney on Abortion

We begin our series of profiles on the 2008 presidential candidates' views on abortion with Mitt Romney. The former governor of Massachusetts was, until recently, pro-choice but now calls himself "pro-life," although he often seems to want to draw a distinction between his personal views and political position. Romney claims that the debate over stem cell research caused him to rethink his pro-choice position. Here are some quotations that capture Romney's evolving position on abortion:

1994 Debate with Senator Ted Kennedy

"I believe that abortion should be safe and legal."

View his full response during that debate -- which is firmly pro-choice -- on YouTube.

Romney's response to a 2002 NARAL Pro-Choice Massachusetts candidate survey

"I respect and will protect a woman's right to choose. This choice is a deeply personal one. Women should be free to choose based on their own beliefs, not mine and not the government's."

Why I Vetoed Contraception Bill, Boston Globe, July 26, 2005

“I understand that my views on laws governing abortion set me in the minority in our Commonwealth. I am prolife. I believe that abortion is the wrong choice except in cases of incest, rape, and to save the life of the mother. I wish the people of America agreed, and that the laws of our nation could reflect that view.”

Interview with Hugh Hewitt, July 2005

“And I promised the people of Massachusetts I would not change Massachusetts abortion laws. Even though I am pro-life, I said I'd leave things where they are.”

“I am a pro-life governor. And I indicated during my campaign that I did not favor abortion. But I'm in a very pro-choice state, and I committed to the people that if elected, I would not change the laws.”

“I fundamentally believe that Roe v. Wade has some serious errors, and the application of Roe v. Wade to every state is one of them. I would rather see each state be able to make its own decision on abortion laws, and under that kind of a scenario, if a state were overwhelmingly pro-choice, it could remain so. If a state were overwhelmingly pro-life, it could remain so. And we allow the people and democracy to work the way the nation's founders had intended.”

Roe v. Wade Cheapens Human Life, Jan. 30, 2007
Attributing his position change to the debate over stem cell research:

"It struck me very powerfully at that point that the Roe v. Wade approach has so cheapened the value of human life that somebody could think it's not a moral issue to destroy embryos."

Finally, Romney's official campaign website includes this quotation, from 2005:

"I am pro-life. I believe that abortion is the wrong choice except in cases of incest, rape, and to save the life of the mother. I wish the people of America agreed, and that the laws of our nation could reflect that view. But while the nation remains so divided over abortion, I believe that the states, through the democratic process, should determine their own abortion laws and not have them dictated by judicial mandate."

Romney thus appears to take the common conservative approach to abortion, which seems to be less about the fetus as a person than about the woman's moral culpability in the act of intercourse.  This is evident both in his call for rape and incest exceptions, and in his belief that state legislatures should decide this question.  (If the fetus is a person, abortion should be illegal regardless of how the fetus was conceived, and the Constitution should protect the fetus against state laws that permit its demise.)  It's also telling that Romney places the quote under the "Affirming America's Culture and Values" portion of his campaign website.  If there were laws that permitted children to be killed, presumably he wouldn't consider it a mere question of "culture" and "values."

Romney's 2005 veto of a bill requiring hospital emergency rooms to provide emergency contraception (EC) to rape survivors and to allow pharmacists to dispense EC without a prescription was remarkable, even given his newly official anti-choice position.  (The Massachusetts legislature overrode his veto.)  Romney's op-ed in the Boston Globe defending his veto asserted that EC can function as an abortifacient because it can work after fertilization.  In fact, emergency contraception can also prevent ovulation or fertilization, depending on where a woman is in her menstrual cycle, and it will not dislodge an implanted, fertilized egg (the medical definition of the beginning of pregnancy).  Given that Romney does not apparently consistently hold the view that a fertilized egg is a person, it's odd that he would not approve increased access to a contraceptive that could prevent many abortions.

See this blog's Saturday's post regarding the effect Romney's views on abortion may have on his chances of winning the Republican nomination.  See the post Must We Say What We Mean for a discussion of the moral significance of politicians' official positions on abortion.  Read about the beliefs of the LDS Church on abortion, which are not as strict as those of the Catholic Church.

2008 Presidential Campaign, Abortion, Politics | Permalink

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What is it exactly that "struck" Mitt so powerfully? Was it the stem cell research debate? Was it the realization that he could never win the Republican nomination as a pro-choice candidate? Or was it the teachings of his own Mormon religion, which condones abortion in cases of rape, incest, or for fetuses whose severe birth defects will kill them after birth? (See Church website at

However, even his recent abortion position is morally inconsistent. Mitt is "struck" to think that detroying embryos is not seen as a moral issue, yet his abortion position is based on legal grounds, not moral grounds. Mitt tries to couch his position in some psuedo-federalism argument. This will neither appease the radical right wing of the Republican party, who are looking for a candidate with a "moral" stance against abortion, nor the moderate wing of the Republican party, who wouldn't vote for a Mormon President regardless. (Recent polls show that less than 22% of the nation's voters would vote for a Mormon President.)

Moreover, while Mitt's newly-minted position on abortion actually moves toward the Mormon Church's position, he is careful not to credit his religion for this position. Mitt obviously is fearful and/or embarrassed to tell the nation that he is a Mormon.

I can't wait to see what legal/moral pretzel Rudy will devise in his primary quest.

Posted by: John D. Lovi | Feb 7, 2007 2:43:35 PM

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