The Trouble with Mitt Romney’s Pro-Life Conversion

Deal W. Hudson

Published December 27, 2007

Mitt Romney, by his own admission, was a pro-abortion governor of Massachusetts. That changed on November 8, 2004 in his second term during a conversation with Dr. Douglas Melton from the Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

According to Romney, Dr. Melton dismissed the “moral issue” of cloning embryos for stem cells “because we kill the embryos after 14 days.” (Melton disputes Romney’s account.)

“It hit me very hard that we had so cheapened the value of human life in a Roe v. Wade environment that it was important to stand for the dignity of human life,” Romney said. From that moment of conversion, Gov. Romney declared himself pro-life and an opponent of embryonic stem cell research. I join those who applaud Romney’s new direction and agree that his promises are the right ones.

But there is a lingering problem: Romney is opposed only to creating clones for stem cell research; he is not opposed to using “discarded” frozen embryos. These frozen embryos have been the primary source of embryonic tissue for stem cell research. How can you declare yourself opposed to this research when you are not opposed to the way it is actually carried out?

Romney’s position became even more confusing during his December 10th interview on CBS with Katie Couric. She asked Romney whether he agreed with using discarded frozen embryos for stem cells.

Romney replied:

Yes, those embryos are commonly referred to as surplus embryos from in-vitro fertilization. Those embryos, I hope, could be available for adoption for people who would like to adopt embryos. But if a parent decides they would want to donate one of those embryos for purposes of research, in my view, that’s acceptable. It should not be made against the law.

My question is this: How can you consider a frozen embryo a moral entity capable of being adopted, while at the same time support the scientist who wants to cut the embryonic being into pieces? Even more, if Romney’s conversion was about the “cheapened value of human life,” how can he abide the thought of a parent donating “one of those embryos” to be destroyed?

Peter G. Flaherty, Romney’s deputy campaign manager, has made it clear the governor is opposed to using federal funds on frozen embryo research, calling it “ethically troublesome.”

As the primary in Iowa approaches, many Iowa conservatives have still not made up their minds. Gov. Mike Huckabee has surged because he became the candidate about whom social conservatives had the fewest doubts. Romney’s well-oiled campaign — the best of any candidate, in my opinion — was never able to overcome the lingering doubts created by his pro-abortion past and the glaring inconsistency of his position on embryonic stem cells.

Romney is not the first politician who tripped over this issue. Back in the summer of 2005, Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN) appeared to be the frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination until he declared his support for expanded federal funding for research on frozen embryos. When Frist refused to recant or clarify his position, his presidential aspirations came to a swift end. Frist’s meltdown came on the heels of the first showdown between the Bush White House and his pro-life supporters. The issue, again, was embryonic stem cells.

Jay P. Lefkowicz, who was domestic policy adviser at the time, describes in Commentary the huge effort made by Bush and his staff to make a decision on federal funding for research. Bush’s decision to limit funding to the existing stem cell lines pleased very few, though the pro-life message of his TV appearance softened the blow to the pro-lifers.

Romney now inhabits a similar political space: His overall pro-life message is pleasing to many voters, but they’re still looking for a safer bet.

Romney’s speech on religion, given at Texas A&M on December 6, was clearly an attempt to calm the fears of his social conservative base, not only about his religion but also his overall commitment to conservative values. Thus far, the former governor of Massachusetts has not received the bump in the polls his campaign hoped to see after the widely-covered speech. More helpful to Romney’s standing was the endorsement by National Review. The NR editors nevertheless acknowledged the chinks in Romney’s pro-life armor in their carefully-worded statement of endorsement:

He [Romney] may not have thought deeply about the political dimensions of social issues until, as governor, he was confronted with the cutting edge of social liberalism.

It’s clear from his convoluted statements on embryonic stem cells that Romney’s thoughts on this issue are still far from coherent and consistent.

For many grassroots conservatives, and those from the Religious Right, Romney may be too big of a stretch, especially when they — at least, for now — identify so closely with the preacher from Hope, Arkansas.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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