Romney's Out of Flops on Abortion

Lots of politicians, and quite a few presidential candidates, have changed their minds on abortion. This is partly because, in its broadest terms, it is a weighty, complex issue with a legitimate case to be made on both sides, even if one side has a stronger case (I'm not talking here about subsidiary issues like parental consent or the despicable laws requiring women to get ultrasounds or anything like that, just the basic question of whether abortion is right or wrong). It's also because in recent years, both parties have tolerated less and less deviation on the issue, particularly in anyone who wants to be their presidential nominee. There are still a few pro-life Democrats (like Harry Reid) and pro-choice Republicans (like Olympia Snowe), but the days when someone could hope to get on a national ticket without toeing the line on abortion are gone.

So if you've been around a while, there's a chance you held one belief in your early years, but then moved to align with your party later on. This is what happened, for instance, to George H.W. Bush (a great advocate of reproductive rights in his early years as a member of Congress) and Al Gore (who started off his career pro-life). Chances are most people don't even know that about Bush or Gore, but people sure do know that Mitt Romney changed his views on abortion. Why? A few reasons.

First, it happened very recently—over a period between 2004 and 2005, when he was moving toward his first run for president. Second, there's lots of video of Romney loudly declaring his pro-choice position and promising to be a vigilant guardian of a woman's right to choose. Third, he has flipped on a lot of things, so the abortion change fits in with a broader impression of Romney as opportunistic and unprincipled. And finally, Romney has never offered an explanation of why he changed that Republican voters find persuasive.

So today, Will Saletan offers a long, exhaustive story about Romney's history with abortion, documenting every movement on the issue over Romney's career, and all the ways (many of them shamelessly dishonest) that he has tried to justify those movements:

When you see the story in its full context, three things become clear. First, this was no flip-flop. Romney is a man with many facets, groping his way through a series of fluid positions on an array of difficult issues. His journey isn’t complete. It never will be. Second, for Romney, abortion was never really a policy question. He didn’t want to change the law. What he wanted to change was his identity. And third, the malleability at Romney’s core is as much about his past as about his future. Again and again, he has struggled to make sense not just of what he should do, but of who he has been. The problem with Romney isn’t that he keeps changing his mind. The problem is that he keeps changing his story.

Saletan paints Romney's history of changes on abortion like everything else about Romney: careful, methodical, planned, full of rewritings of the past, and utterly devoid of any discernible principle or genuine sentiment.

If he gets elected, though, will Romney be different in any meaningful way from a candidate who had been anti-abortion all his or her life? Let's look at what he'll actually do. He'll instantly reinstate the Mexico City Policy that bans U.S. support for any group that even suggests abortion overseas, pushing that pendulum back to the Republican side. He'll sign any legislation Congress might come up with restricting reproductive rights. And perhaps most importantly, he'll appoint to federal courts, and to the Supreme Court, judges who want to overturn Roe v. Wade. If Romney were elected and one of the five justices who currently support Roe (Kennedy, Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor) retires or dies, he will absolutely, positively appoint a successor who is ready to overturn Roe.

Because he doesn't have much choice, whatever he believes deep down. He has to dance with the one who brung him, and the Republican party will simply not tolerate anything less. Republicans may fear that he'll get to the White House and suddenly shift back to being pro-choice, but that simply isn't going to happen. Try to imagine the category-5 shitstorm that would result if a President Romney nominated someone to the Supreme Court that Republicans felt was a less-than-reliable vote to overturn Roe. If he was in his first term, he'd immediately get primary challengers. If he was in his second term, they'd try to impeach him. Even if most Americans don't want to overturn Roe, the political cost of another shift for Romney would just be too high. And it's hard to argue that for him, there's any other calculation to be made.

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