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Romney’s Change of Heart on Abortion

by | Dec 2, 2011

By Dave Andrusko
National Right to Life News Today

Pro-Life former Massachussets Gov. Mitt Romney

When you have as much money as President Obama’s re-election machine does, even now before the first caucuses have taken place you could dump loads of negative ads on any GOP presidential candidate with a pulse. Instead, Team Obama (through the Democratic National Committee) has aimed its artillery squarely at pro-life former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. Whether that means that Obama fears Romney more than a resurgent pro-life former Speaker Newt Gingrich (the conventional wisdom for now), it surprised no one that the ad zeroed in on Romney’s alleged flip-flops.

In some cases the “flip-flop” is in the mind of a reporter or a political opponent. But sometimes a candidate will have experienced a change of position. Almost anyone in political life who does so on a major issue will be bludgeoned unmercifully. The preferred club is the charge that the turnaround is merely a political expediency.

Romney’s 180 degree course correction on abortion—from “pro-choice” to pro-life– began in 2004-05. While I fully understand that some have not yet accepted his pro-life profession, there are good reasons to welcome this exceedingly good news as authentic.

For one thing, our numbers are replete with women and men who at one time considered themselves “pro-choice.” Indeed, you could say we are the ultimate “second chance” Movement.

At one end are people who were casually on the other side, with no real investment. They may have inherited that position or inhaled it in a campus setting. But the experience of getting married and having a family often meant that the airy abstraction of “choice” ran head-on into the concrete reality of nurturing children, beginning with pregnancy.

At the other end are women who at the time for reasons they felt were sufficient—indeed compelling—have aborted a child. Coming to grips with the lethal magnitude of that decision can be overpowering.

As Susan Wills explained in the latest issue of National Right to Life News, attendees to the “Healing Visions” conference in Milwaukee heard about the “consistency and universality of post-abortion reactions among women in various nations and cultures.’” Speakers “demonstrated that the adverse consequences are not produced by ‘anti-abortion protesters’ in the United States, nor are they the product of ‘Catholic guilt,’ but are a universal and deep-seated reaction to the loss of a child in a brutal way, and whose death was either sought by, or forced upon, the mother,” Wills wrote.

When these women take up the pro-life cause—and they are in ever-increasing numbers—it is easy to understand why and hard to overstate how telling their witness can be.

Many others are moved to join our Movement more gradually, sometimes beginning from a hazy pro-life stance, sometimes from a deep commitment to abortion. The latter is what Gov. Romney experienced in the context of a debate over embryonic stem cell research.

Previously he had been unequivocal both in an unsuccessful run for United States Senator (1994) and a successful campaign for governor (2002). He believed that “since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years that we should sustain and support it” and eight years later said he would not change the state’s “pro-choice laws.”

This week columnist Kathleen Parker wrote about “Behind Romney’s change of heart on abortion.” She set the stage by examining how “does a person change from one position to the polar opposite on such a core issue as abortion?”

And then she addressed the specifics of Romney’s own change of heart which

“evolved not from personal experience but rather from a purposeful course of study. I know this because I know the man who instructed him in 2005 on the basics of embryonic life during the stem-cell research debate then taking place in Massachusetts. As governor at the time, Romney was under intense pressure to help flip a state law that protected embryos from stem-cell research. Some of that pressure came from Harvard University, Romney’s alma mater, where scientists hoped to assume a leading role in stem-cell research.

“The politically expedient choice was obvious, but Romney took a more thoughtful approach and sought to educate himself before staking out a position. Enter William Hurlbut, a physician and professor of biomedical ethics at Stanford University Medical School. For several hours, Hurlbut and Romney met in the governor’s office and went through the dynamics of conception, embryonic development and the repercussions of research that targets nascent human life. It was not a light lunch.

“The result of that conversation and others was a pro-life Romney, who kept his campaign promise to honor the state’s democratically asserted preference for abortion choice but also began a personal path that happened to serve him well, at least theoretically, among social conservatives.”

As I hope is clear by now there is no one-way-fits-all explanation for how people enlist in our Movement. For example, for many people, there’ve been “aha” moments. I was moved from arm-chair sympathizer to full-time pro-life activist by a video series from philosopher Francis Schaeffer and former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop: “Whatever Happened to the Human Race?” My guess is had that not already happened, what would have moved me to join the ranks was when I first heard my oldest child’s heartbeat. Even after all I knew about prenatal development, it darn near knocked my socks off.

Unlike people like me, Romney was not already intuitively pro-life so his change of heart took a different path. But that makes it no less genuine and, because it was built gradually, brick by brick, it may be all the more solid.

In response to a question from Parker, Hurlbut said he believed Romney’s change is sincere.

“Several things about our conversation still stand out strongly in my mind,” Hurlbut told me. “First, he clearly recognized the significance of the issue, not just as a current controversy but as a matter that would define the character of our culture way into the future.

“Second, it was obvious that he had put in a real effort to understand both the scientific prospects and the broader social implications. Finally, I was impressed by both his clarity of mind and sincerity of heart. . . . He recognized that this was not a matter of purely abstract theory or merely pragmatic governance, but a crucial moment in how we are to regard nascent human life and the broader meaning of medicine in the service of life.”

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Categories: Politics