Where does presidential candidate Mitt Romney stand on abortion?

The word “abortion” doesn’t appear as a main topic under the “Issue Watch” tab on his official presidential Web site. Education, energy, immigration and defeating the jihadists appear as primary issues.

Another primary issue is culture and values. That specific Web page contains a single quote about abortion from an opinion editorial that appeared in the Boston Globe in July 2005.

“I am pro-life. I believe that abortion is the wrong choice except in cases of incest, rape and to save the life of the mother,” he wrote.

“I wish the people of America agreed, and that the laws of our nation could reflect that view. But while the nation remains so divided over abortion, I believe that the states, through the democratic process, should determine their own abortion laws and not have them dictated by judicial mandate,” wrote Romney.

“I’ve always been personally pro-life. I’ve taught that to others, it’s been part of my faith,” the former governor said during this week’s presidential debate in South Carolina.

“The question for me was: What should government do in this kind of setting? And the Supreme Court stepped in and took a decision, and I said I’d support that decision,” he said.

Romney added: “And then I watched the impact of that decision as I was governor of Massachusetts. And when we came to debating cloning and embryo farming and we saw human life, human life rack after rack that’s going to be experimented upon and then disposed, I said Roe v. Wade has gone to such an extent that we’ve cheapened the value of human life. And I believe that a civilized society has to respect the sanctity of human life. And what I’m saying is that, in my view, the people should make this decision, not the court.”

Romney’s response concluded the round of debate questions related to abortion that is available at the end of a seven-minute segment on YouTube.

Addressing immigration later in the debate, John McCain, another presidential candidate, took a veiled shot at Romney’s position on abortion.

“I haven’t changed my position on even-numbered years or have changed because of the different offices that I may be running for,” McCain said.

McCain’s comment underscores the unsettling evolution in Romney’s record on abortion, one that some Christian Right leaders defend as a sign of moral growth instead of a matter of convenience or electoral choice.

Yet Romney claimed a pro-choice position less than five years ago when he ran for governor in Massachusetts.

Romney said in a 2002 debate, “I will preserve and protect a women’s right to choose, and am devoted and dedicate to honoring my word in that regard.”

Defending his position against the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, Romney cited a Boston Globe editorial, saying “There’s not a paper’s width worth of difference between our two positions in this regard.”

He said, “I’m not going to change our pro-choice laws in Massachusetts in any way. I will preserve them. I will protect them. I will enforce them.”

“My position has been the same throughout my political career and it goes back to the days of 1970,” he said. “There was a woman, who was running for political office, U.S. Senate, she took a very bold and courageous stand in 1970 and … that was that a woman should have the right to make her own choice whether to have an abortion. Her name was Lenore Romney. She was my mom.”

Years earlier, when he ran for the U.S. Senate, Romney said in a 1994 debate against Ted Kennedy, “I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country. I have since the time that my mom took that position when she ran in 1970 as a U.S. senate candidate.”

The Republican candidate said, “I believe, that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years, that we should sustain and support it. And I sustain and support that law and the right of a woman to make that choice.”

Romney has changed dramatically his position on abortion, shifting from pro-choice to anti-abortion position.

Perhaps he really did have an epiphany moment when he was studying stem cell research. Politicians and others should learn from experiences, grow in wisdom and be malleable to new truths and hard lessons. Wooden headedness is not a virtue. Voters show poor judgment with unrealistic expectations about the purity of politicians.

Yet Christians should practice discernment about the claims of candidates and the context for their changes. On both counts, Romney’s credibility is questionable. His explanation is awkward. His timing is suspicious.

Romney is an ambitious, experienced politician from a political family. Surely, he thought carefully about the abortion issue prior to the stem cell debate a few years ago. If he did not explore it, why didn’t he? If he really did have a conversion experience of moral substance, where’s the moral beef of his new found commitment?

Until Romney tells us more about his anti-abortion conversion, his position looks like a matter of electoral choice.

Robert Parham is executive director of the BaptistCenter for Ethics.

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