Recalling a Pro-Choice Mitt Romney

There's a lot of good reporting in William Saletan's piece on the GOP's front-runner's "evolving" views on abortion. I think this for instance is damning:


On June 12, 1994, he and his wife, Ann, attended a Planned Parenthood fundraiser at the home of a Republican activist in Massachusetts. In May 2007, somebody outed the Romneys for having written a $150 check to Planned Parenthood, presumably for attending the event. The check, signed by Ann, was from their joint account. At this point, only the check was public. Reporters hadn't yet learned about the event. Mitt Romney responded by attributing the check to Ann: "Her contributions are for her and not for me, and her positions I do not think are terribly relevant to my campaign." (You can watch Romney's answer on video here.) Six months later, a photo of Mitt at the event turned up. Did he not remember being there? Or was it just easier to pin the check on his wife and hope nobody found out more? 

Nothing in Romney's evolving autobiography is more misleading than his claim that he never called himself pro-choice. During the 2008 presidential race, Romney told Fox News: "I never called myself pro-choice. I never allowed myself to use the word pro-choice because I didn't feel I was pro-choice. I would protect the law, I said, as it was, but I wasn't pro-choice." (You can watch that clip here.) Romney has even dared his doubters to "go back to YouTube and look at what I said in 1994." 

Let's do that..  

In May 1994, when the Boston Herald asked him about abortion, he talked instead about "choice legislation." Two days later, in a debate, he said, "I support a woman's right to choose." In September, Romney's spokesman told reporters, "Mitt has always been consistent in his pro-choice position." In October, when the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League called Romney a fake pro-choicer, the candidate shot back: "I don't think it's NARAL's position to say who's pro-choice and who's not pro-choice." 

Whether Romney ever said "I'm pro-choice" is beside the point. What's obvious is that he used the language of choice and choose to signal his commitment to abortion rights. 

He also embraced Roe v. Wade. Contrary to the story he now tells--that he accepted Roe only because "the Supreme Court had spoken"--Romney argued in his debate with Kennedy that Americans "should sustain and support" Roe. For Mormons, sustain has special meaning. The church's 12th Article of Faith exalts "obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law." To sustain others means "to uphold, to support, to assist" them. Romney was making a solemn commitment. On another occasion during the 1994 campaign, Romney said of Roe, "I want it to remain the law of the land." And he endorsed the core of the Freedom of Choice Act, which would have preserved Roe rights in federal law in case the decision were overturned.

Political points aside Saletan's reporting makes it clear that Romney--perhaps more than anyone in either party running for president--has direct and personal experience with abortion. He has a relative who died having an illegal abortion. As a church bishop he grappled with the issue in specific cases. With that direct experience, Romney really has the experience to talk about abortion in some depth and as something more than the results from a focus group.

He chooses not to--perhaps out of political necessity. But it's hard to avoid the conclusion that for all the talk about the sanctity of human life Romney doesn't much care about the issue. He seems to be personally opposed to abortion. But that doesn't mean much--plenty of people who call themselves pro-choice are personally opposed to abortion. This is a question of policy--and one in which the energy of rhetoric contrasts with lethargy of action. 
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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