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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson May 15, 2012

Mitt Romney evolved significantly in his position on abortion

UPDATE: This article has been changed to reflect that the issues section of Romney's campaign website does address abortion, under the heading "Values." Our ruling remains the same.

Mitt Romney has faced years of accusations that he’s flip-flopped on various issues. One issue where Romney has clearly changed his position is abortion.
We should note that the Flip-O-Meter rates politicians' consistency on particular topics from No Flip to Full Flop. The meter is not intended to pass judgment on their decisions to change their minds. It’s simply gauging whether they did.

First, we’ll look at some of the things Romney said earlier in his career about abortion, when he was waging a losing bid for a U.S. Senate seat in Massachusetts and winning the governorship a few years later.

Here are two of the clearest statements of his position.
•  In a debate during his 1994 race against Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy, Romney said, "I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country." Referring to the 1973 Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in every state, Romney added, "I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years, it should be sustained and supported. And I sustain and support that law and support the right of a woman to make that choice."
•  In his 2002 campaign for governor, Romney said during a debate, "I will preserve and protect a woman's right to choose and am devoted and dedicated to honoring my word in that regard."
We believe that these two comments -- made in highly public forums and eight years apart -- represent pretty solid evidence that Romney was an abortion-rights supporter during that phase of his political career. (A few other media sources that provide a detailed accounting of the nuances of Romney’s abortion views can be found here and here.)

What about Romney’s views today? Romney wrote a June 18, 2011, op-ed in the conservative National Review that lays out his abortion views in detail.  
"I am pro-life and believe that abortion should be limited to only instances of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. 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.
"I will reinstate the Mexico City Policy to ensure that nongovernmental organizations that receive funding from America refrain from performing or promoting abortion services as a method of family planning, in other countries. This includes ending American funding for any United Nations or other foreign assistance program that promotes or performs abortions on women around the world.
"I will advocate for and support a Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act to protect unborn children who are capable of feeling pain from abortion. And perhaps most importantly, I will only appoint judges who adhere to the Constitution and the laws as they are written, not as they want them to be written."

Romney repeated strong anti-abortion views throughout the 2012 presidential primaries.

For instance, during a town meeting in Hopkinton, N.H., on Oct. 10, 2011, Romney answered a question about his position on abortion this way:

"What I would like to see happen would be for the Supreme Court to say, look, we’re going to overturn Roe v. Wade and return to the states the authority to decide whether they want to have abortion or not, state by state. That’s the way it was before Roe v. Wade. So I am firmly pro-life."

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And on his campaign website, Romney said he "believes that life begins at conception and wishes that the laws of our nation reflected that view. But while the nation remains so divided, he believes that the right next step is for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade – a case of blatant judicial activism that took a decision that should be left to the people and placed it in the hands of unelected judges. With Roe overturned, states will be empowered through the democratic process to determine their own abortion laws and not have them dictated by judicial mandate."

It’s also worth noting that Romney has not denied a change of heart on abortion.

He traces it to a statehouse meeting with Harvard University stem-cell researcher Douglas Melton on Nov. 9, 2004. By Romney’s account, he was stunned to hear Melton say that "we kill the embryos after 14 days." (Two years after the meeting, Melton sharply contradicted that account, telling the Boston Globe that Romney "mischaracterized" his position and saying that he and Romney "didn't discuss killing or anything related to it. I explained my work to him, told him about my deeply held respect for life, and explained that my work focuses on improving the lives of those suffering from debilitating diseases." An exhaustive journalistic review of Romney’s stances on abortion by Slate’s William Saletan, however, suggests that Romney’s view of what transpired in the meeting is plausible.)

In an interview with the conservative blog RedState in September 2006, Romney said, "My position changed during the stem-cell research debate. The provost of Harvard and the head of stem-cell research came into my office and at one point said that stem-cell research was not a moral issue because they killed the embryo at 14 days. And it hit me hard at that very moment that the Roe v. Wade philosophy had cheapened the value of human life. And I said to my chief of staff, who was with me in the meeting, as we came outside, ‘I am no longer content with the description of my position. I want to call myself pro-life.’ "

Our ruling

Romney’s views on abortion are significantly different today than what he expressed in the 1994 and 2002 debates. Indeed, Romney has acknowledged that his views on abortion have changed over the years. His shift in position on abortion rates a Full Flop.

Our Sources

Mitt Romney, "Why I vetoed contraception bill" (Boston Globe op-ed), July 26, 2005, "RedState Radio: Welcome Gov. Mitt Romney," September 2006

Boston Globe, "Romney's journey to the right," Dec. 17, 2006

Washington Post, "Romney Comments on Abortion" (audio, transcript of interview with Dan Balz, David Broder, and Ruth Marcus), Feb. 20, 2007
ABC News, "Romney's Pro-Life Conversion: Myth or Reality?" June 14, 2007

Washington Post, "Romney and abortion" (chronology), Sept. 21, 2007

Boston Globe, "Romney adds chapter to abortion history," June 20, 2011

Mitt Romney, "My Pro-Life Pledge" (op-ed in National Review), June 18, 2011

POLITICO, "Mitt Romney's abortion pledge," June 18, 2011

Salon, "The abortion that Mitt doesn’t talk about anymore," Aug 8, 2011

C-SPAN, footage of town meeting in Hopkinton, N.H., Oct. 10, 2011

Slate, "The Conversion: How, when, and why Mitt Romney changed his mind on abortion," Feb. 22, 2012

Slate, "Romney’s Abortion History: A Bibliography," Feb. 22, 2012

BuzzFeed, "A Mitt Romney Abortion Timeline," Apr. 14, 2012

PolitiFact, "Romney now opposes abortion," Sept. 12, 2007

PolitiFact, "Pro-choice is his record, but not his position," Oct. 17, 2007

PolitiFact, "Their shifts were less stark," Dec. 19, 2007

PolitiFact, "Romney has changed his stand on abortion," Jan. 28, 2008

PolitiFact, "Jon Huntsman accuses Mitt Romney of flip-flopping on abortion," Nov. 2, 2011

PolitiFact, "PAC ad sketches Romney as abortion flip-flopper," March 22, 2012

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Mitt Romney evolved significantly in his position on abortion

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