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Pro-Choice, Anti-Choice, Mitt Romney Cannot Be Serious | The Nation

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John Nichols

John Nichols

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Pro-Choice, Anti-Choice, Mitt Romney Cannot Be Serious

The New Hampshire Democratic Party has got the number of the newly-announced candidate who will not be the Republican nominee for president.

The party is distributing t-shirts that feature “The Two Sides of Mitt Romney.” 

On the front the shirts read: 

“Mitt Romney:

 

Pro-Individual Mandate

 

Pro-Recovery Act

 

Pro-Immigration Reform

 

Pro-Cap and Trade

 

Pro-Gay Rights”

 

On the back they read:

 

“Mitt Romney:

 

Anti-Individual Mandate

 

Anti-Recovery Act

 

Anti-Immigration Reform

 

Anti-Cap and Trade

 

Anti-Gay Rights”

 

 All true.

But Romney’s biggest flip-flop is not mentioned.

In 1994, when he was mounting a serious challenge to Democratic incumbent Edward Kennedy in a Massachusetts U.S. Senate contest, Romney tried on a number of issues to position himself as a reasonably liberal alternative to the veteran senator. This was especially true on the question of abortion rights, where Romney did not merely offer a soft pro-choice line like “Roe v. Wade is settled law” or “I support the current law.”

“I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country,” Romney declared in a debate with Kennedy. “I have since the time that my mom took that position when she ran in 1970 as a US Senate candidate. 

The reference to his mother is significant, as she was in her day a definitionally pro-choice Republican. When Lenore Romney sought a Michigan U.S. Senate seat in 1970, her literature declared: ''I support and recognize the need for more liberal abortion rights…” while endorsing ''greatly expanded programs of providing adequate family planning services to all those who want but can't afford them.” 

The position taken by Lenore Romney was, like that of many women who came of age in an era when restrictions on abortion rights endangered the life and health of women, was influenced by personal experience. According to Mitt Romney, his mother’s stance was inspired by the death of her son-in-law's teenage sister from an illegal abortion. "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,” he said of his own pro-choice stance. “And you will not see me wavering on that.”

As it happened, Romney did waver.

When he ran for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, Romney was adamantly pro-choice. "I respect and will protect a woman's right to choose. This choice is a deeply personal one,” he wrote in response to National Abortion Rights Action League's candidate survey. ”Women should be free to choose based on their own beliefs, not mine and not the government's."

At the time, according to the Boston Globe, Romney's running mate, Kerry Healey, declared: "There's isn't a dime of difference between Mitt Romney's position on choice" and that of his Democratic opponent.

After Romney was elected, he established a decidedly mixed record on the choice issue, which brought rebukes from NARAL. But it was only as he prepared to seek the Republican nomination for president in 2008 – just four years ago – that Romney abandoned his heartfelt stance and the references to the position of “my mom” on the issue.

Romney is now running as an aggressively anti-choice candidate. But it is not going to work with the people who pick Republican nominees. Romney’s defeat in the 2008 caucuses in Iowa, where opposition to abortion rights has long been a definitional issue in Republican politics, was related to distrust of the candidate, whose continued support of exceptions in cases of rape, incest and health of the mother cost him dearly among social-conservative purists.

Romney was once a reasonably moderate Republican, like his mother and his father, George, a former Michigan governor and failed presidential contender who in the 1960s aligned with liberal Republicans such as Nelson Rockefeller, Bill Scranton and Jacob Javits. Now, Mitt Romney's trying to present himself as a hard-right conservative in what is an increasingly hard-right party.

It won’t work.

Just as Romney is no longer trusted by the “Republicans for Choice” camp that once celebrated his positions, he is having a hard time winning the trust of the true believers in the now-overwhelmingly dominant Republican anti-choice camp.

Romney can run, but he cannot hide from his record of flip-flopping on what in for Republican caucus and primary voters a gateway issue. And, because of this, his chances of securing the GOP nod are no better than in 2008. 

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