Mitt Romney Still Faces Questions Over His Pro-Life Stance

Politics   |   Steven Ertelt   |   Aug 3, 2011   |   11:21AM   |   Washington, DC

The National Catholic Register is out today with a lengthy profile of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney and whether he can truly be considered pro-life on the issue of abortion. The question haunts him now as it did in the 2008 presidential election.

The fact that Romney is unable to shake the question of the sincerity of his pro-life beliefs is a twofold problem.

First, it’s a problem for Romney that, no matter what he does, he is unable to convince a good portion of the majority of Republican voters in early battleground states like Iowa ad South Carolina who are pro-life, that he is one of them. There are conservative Republican voters who are resolute in their decision not to support Romney’s candidacy and it makes it so Romney will have to rely on the losing strategy that failed to earn him the nomination in 2008 — winning Michigan and early western states with heavy Mormon populations and attempting to win New Hampshire. If Romney is unable to convince voters in Iowa, South Carolina and Florida that he is pro-life enough, the second time may not be a charm.

The second problem is for the pro-life movement — that some pro-life people are so skeptical of converts. The pro-life community can engage in a good faith debate over whether Romney’s conversion on abortion is political or authentic but the debate makes it so any pro-abortion politician who converts to the pro-life perspective will likely face scrutiny over whether the decision is made for political gain or is heartfelt. That makes it tough for the movement to win converts if potential converts know they will face such strong skepticism that they will still not be viewed as friends by pro-life voters.

Romney didn’t do himself any favors when he declined the opportunity to sign a pledge sponsored by the Susan B. Anthony List, as other Republican presidential candidates like Michele Bachmann and Tim Pawlenty did, committing to basic pro-life principles like appointing good judges, opposing taxpayer funding of abortions and Planned Parenthood.

Romney said he supports the principles of the pledge but worried about the consequences — that public hospitals that happen to perform even a handful of abortions (and potentially to save the life of the mother or in cases of rape or incest) would lose federal funding. SBA responded that publicly-funded hospitals are not on the de-funding target list — that the legislation in question applies to Planned Parenthood receiving family planning funds.

Still, that left headlines with the message that Romney refused to sign a pro-life pledge and exacerbated the headaches he has when it comes to convincing pro-life advocates to support him.

The NCR article features both skeptics and believers when it comes to Romney’s views and it starts with the pledge question.

Mary Ann Glendon, former U.S. ambassador to the Holy See and a Harvard University law professor, defended Romney:

“I know that he agrees with its spirit and substance, but, unfortunately, the pledge is so broadly drafted that I, as a pro-life lawyer myself, would have advised him not to sign. To promise to defund all recipients of federal funds with affiliates that perform or fund abortions would entail defunding practically every health-care provider in the United States.”
SBA List president Marjorie Dannenfelser disagrees, citing another potential reason Romney didn’t sign the pledge: “Our next president must recognize the urgency of addressing over a million abortions per year. That’s why our pledge calls for active leadership, not just checking the box. Six candidates took the pledge, and the pro-life grassroots know where they stand. Romney has submitted his own pro-life pledge on NRO [National Review Online]’s The Corner, and we certainly appreciate his support for many pro-life efforts. However, he still seems to indicate that he wants the freedom to nominate pro-abortion candidates for key cabinet positions such as attorney general or secretary of Health and Human Services. This is precisely what we want to rule out, and it is unacceptable. We are hoping Gov. Romney has a change of heart and that he does sign the pro-life leadership pledge.”
Glendon says she trusts Romney in the NCR interview.
“After participating in a searching no-holds-barred conversation among Mitt, his wife, Anne, and a group of pro-life activists in March 2007,” Glendon said, “I was completely convinced of his sincerity on the life issues. The pro-life movement has staked so much on the confidence that people’s minds can be changed that it would be strange to accuse a person of ‘flip-flopping’ when, as in Mitt’s case, his mind and heart have brought him to respect the dignity of human life from conception to natural death.”

Romney has his pro-life supporters:  people like National Right to Life legal counsel James Bopp and Dr. Jack Willke, considered the father of the modern pro-life movement, endorsed him in 2008. And his home state pro-life group, Massachusetts Citizens for Life, considers his conversion authentic — giving Romney its Political Leadership Award in 2007. Jordan Sekulow of the ACLJ backed Romney as well.

“I don’t think Romney will go back on his pro-life commitment,” Willke said.
But Phil Lawler of Catholic World News told NCR “I don’t trust him. He’s made it clear that the life issues don’t count for much with him. They’re not his issues.”
Lawler is an example of the nagging doubt pro-life advocates have of Romney. In 2008, I said that time would likely help the Republican presidential hopeful find favor with pro-life people as he continued to say he is pro-life and make pro-life legislative and political commitments. During the last campaign, Romney seemed consisted — saying he supported overturning Roe and supporting a littany of pro-life legislation. He will have to keep pumping the pro-life message to overcome the SBA pledge bobble.
Ultimately, the pro-life movement will support Romney if he is the nominee against a pro-abortion stalwart in Barack Obama, but getting the nomination will be the bigger challenge for the former governor.