The Trouble With Mitt Romney’s Pro-Life Conversion

Deal W. Hudson
Published December 27, 2007

Mitt Romney, by his own admission, was a pro-abortion governor of Massachusetts. That changed on November 8, 2004 in his second term during a conversation with Dr. Douglas Melton from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

According to Romney, Dr. Melton dismissed the “moral issue” of cloning embryos for stem cells “because we kill the embryos after 14 days.” (Melton disputes Romney’s account.)

“It hit me very hard that we had so cheapened the value of human life in a Roe v. Wade environment that it was important to stand for the dignity of human life,”Romney said. From that moment of conversion, Gov. Romney declared himself pro-life and an opponent of embryonic stem cell research. I join those who applaud Romney’s new direction and agree that his promises are the right ones.

But there is a lingering problem: Romney is opposed only to creating clones for stem cell research; he is not opposed to using “discarded” frozen embryos. These frozen embryos have been the primary source of embryonic tissue for stem cell research. How can you declare yourself opposed to this research when you are not opposed to the way it is actually carried out?

Romney’s position became even more confusing during his December 10th interview on CBS with Katie Couric. She asked Romney whether he agreed with using discarded frozen embryos for stem cells.

Romney replied:

Yes, those embryos are commonly referred to as surplus embryos from in-vitro fertilization. Those embryos, I hope, could be available for adoption for people who would like to adopt embryos. But if a parent decides they would want to donate one of those embryos for purposes of research, in my view, that’s acceptable. It should not be made against the law.

My question is this: How can you consider a frozen embryo a moral entity capable of being adopted, while at the same time support the scientist who wants to cut the embryonic being into pieces? Even more, if Romney’s conversion was about the “cheapened value of human life,” how can he abide the thought of a parent donating “one of those embryos” to be destroyed?

Peter G. Flaherty, Romney’s deputy campaign manager, has made it clear the governor is opposed to using federal funds on frozen embryo research, calling it “ethically troublesome.”

As the primary in Iowa approaches, many Iowa conservatives have still not made up their minds. Gov. Mike Huckabee has surged because he became the candidate about whom social conservatives had the fewest doubts. Romney’s well-oiled campaign – the best of any candidate, in my opinion – was never able to overcome the lingering doubts created by his pro-abortion past and the glaring inconsistency of his position on embryonic stem cells.

Romney is not the first politician who tripped over this issue. Back in the summer of 2005, Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN) appeared to be the frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination until he declared his support for expanded federal funding for research on frozen embryos. When Frist refused to recant or clarify his position, his presidential aspirations came to a swift end. Frist’s meltdown came on the heels of the first showdown between the Bush White House and his pro-life supporters. The issue, again, was embryonic stem cells.

Jay P. Lefkowicz, who was domestic policy adviser at the time, describes inCommentary the huge effort made by Bush and his staff to make a decision on federal funding for research. Bush’s decision to limit funding to the existing stem cell lines pleased very few, though the pro-life message of his TV appearance softened the blow to the pro-lifers.

Romney now inhabits a similar political space: His overall pro-life message is pleasing to many voters, but they’re still looking for a safer bet.

Romney’s speech on religion, given at Texas A&M on December 6, was clearly an attempt to calm the fears of his social conservative base, not only about his religion but also his overall commitment to conservative values. Thus far, the former governor of Massachusetts has not received the bump in the polls his campaign hoped to see after the widely-covered speech. More helpful to Romney’s standing was the endorsement by National Review. The NR editors nevertheless acknowledged the chinks in Romney’s pro-life armor in their carefully-worded statement of endorsement:

He [Romney] may not have thought deeply about the political dimensions of social issues until, as governor, he was confronted with the cutting edge of social liberalism.

It’s clear from his convoluted statements on embryonic stem cells that Romney’s thoughts on this issue are still far from coherent and consistent.

For many grassroots conservatives, and those from the Religious Right, Romney may be too big of a stretch, especially when they – at least, for now – identify so closely with the preacher from Hope, Arkansas.

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