Of all of Mitt Romney's comical flip-flops on the issues, his gymnastic reversal on abortion rights is the most pathetic. During his 1994 Massachusetts Senate run, Mitt and his wife Ann contributed $150 at a Planned Parenthood event. Eight years later during his race for governor, Romney assured Planned Parenthood he supported Roe v. Wade, state Medicaid funding for abortion services and access to emergency contraception. But now under pressure to sign a pledge promising draconian new restrictions on Americans' reproductive rights, Mitt Romney has joined the right-wing crusade against Planned Parenthood.
Romney's latest troubles this week began with his refusal to sign an anti-abortion pledge demanded as proof of pro-life bona fides by the right-wing Susan B. Anthony's List. As Politico described that stunning document, the SBAList pledge combines now-standard Republican orthodoxy with the latest in conservative junk science:
Michele Bachmann, Newt Gingrich, Ron Paul, Tim Pawlenty and Rick Santorum each signed the pledge, sponsored by Susan B. Anthony List, vowing to nominate judges and appoint executive branch officials who are opposed to abortion. The pledge also commit signers to push legislation to end all taxpayer funding of abortion and to sign a law to "protect unborn children who are capable of feeling pain from abortion."
For his part, Romney insisted that "as much as I share the goals of the Susan B. Anthony List," its requirement to end funding not just for Planned Parenthood and but for "all other contractors and recipients of federal funds with affiliates that perform or fund abortions" would mean eliminating "federal funding for thousands of hospitals across America." The SBAList litmus test, Romney added, "also unduly burdens a president's ability to appoint the most qualified individuals to a broad array of key positions in the federal government."
But under fire from competitors flanking him on the right, Romney responded in the pages of the National Review with "My Pro-Life Pledge." In it, Multiple Choice Mitt gave the hard liners almost everything they want using the talking points they love most on Roe, judicial appointments, "fetal pain" and more:
I support the reversal of Roe v. Wade, because it is bad law and bad medicine. Roe was a misguided ruling that was a result of a small group of activist federal judges legislating from the bench.
I support the Hyde Amendment, which broadly bars the use of federal funds for abortions. And as president, I will support efforts to prohibit federal funding for any organization like Planned Parenthood, which primarily performs abortions or offers abortion-related services.
Sadly, Mitt Romney the Right-to-Life crusader of 2011 wouldn't recognize the Mitt Romney of 1994 or 2002 who completed a NARAL questionnaire by promising:
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. The truth is no candidate in the governor's race in either party would deny women abortion rights. So let's end an argument that does not exist and stop these cynical and divisive attacks that are made only for political gain.
Back then, Romney hoping to appease progressive voters in Massachusetts wary of his pro-life Mormon past, Romney declared "I believe women should have the right to make their own choice." As ABC News first reported, Romney and his wife went so far as to attend a Planned Parenthood fundraising house party in 1994 and wrote that $150 check to the group. Running for governor in April 2002, Romney put his mouth where his money was in a questionnaire submitted to the organization:
Do you support the substance of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade? YES
Do you support state funding of abortion services through Medicaid for low-income women? YES
In 1998 the FDA approved the first packaging of emergency contraception, also known as the "morning after pill." Emergency contraception is a high dose combination of oral contraceptives that if taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, can safely prevent a pregnancy from occurring. Do you support efforts to increase access to emergency contraception? YES
Ultimately, Romney was successful in defusing the issue in his 2002 race against Democrat Shannon O'Brien by promising to avoid changing the status quo in the Commonwealth:
"I promised that if elected, I'd call a truce - a moratorium, if you will...I vowed to veto any legislation that sought to change the existing rules...I fully respect and will fully protect a woman's right to choose."
Those gymnastics on reproductive rights may have worked with socially liberal, suburban voters in 2002, but they offered a recipe for disaster with the Christian Coalition's so-called "values-voters" in the 2008 GOP primaries. Predictably, Romney began his sharp right turn. By the fall of 2005, Romney flip-flopped again on abortion, claiming that his position has "evolved" and that "my political philosophy is pro-life." By the spring of 2006, his spokeswoman Julie Teer laid out Romney's position of a proposed South Dakota abortion ban:
"If Gov. Romney were the governor of South Dakota he would sign it. The governor believes that states should have the right to be pro-life if that is the will of the people."
It's no wonder that in 2005, Romney's own advisor Michael Murphy said of Mitt that "he's been a pro-life Mormon faking it as a pro-choice friendly."
Unfortunately for Mitt Romney, that conversion probably won't be enough for either the likes of the Susan B. Anthony's List or Republican primary voters.
(This piece also appears at Perrspectives.)