Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney addressed the National Right to Life Committee's annual convention Friday in Kansas City and said that his previous views on abortion were wrong. In 2002, Romney ran as a pro-choice candidate for Massachusetts governor.
Outside the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Kansas City, a man in an oversized dolphin suit waddled along the sidewalk, wearing a T-shirt that read, "Flip Romney." Ever since Romney launched his bid for the GOP presidential nomination, he has been accused of flip-flopping on abortion and stem-cell research.
But speaking to about 400 delegates at the National Right to Life Convention, Romney denied the charge and said he converted to the pro-life cause soon after being elected governor of Massachusetts.
"And I proudly follow a long line of converts: George H.W. Bush, Ronald Regan, Henry Hyde, just to name a few," Romney said. "I'm evidence that your relentless campaign to promote the sanctity of human life bears fruit."
Romney said the turning point for him on abortion came when he was looking at the issue of stem cells. In the past, Romney has supported limited government funding for stem-cell research. But Romney said he found stem-cell researchers casually cloning and farming embryos in Orwellian labs.
"The slippery slope was taking us to racks and racks of living human embryos, Brave New World-like, awaiting termination. What some see as just a clump of cells is actually a human life," Romney said.
He came out strongly against any expansion of stem-cell research during Friday's speech at the pro-life convention.
"For me, a bright moral line is crossed when we create new life for the sole purpose of experimentation and destruction. That's why I fought to keep cloning and embryo farming illegal in our state. And by the way, I'm not just talking about federal funding or state funding. I mean illegal."
Romney said the battle over stem cells in Massachusetts made him also realize that abortion is wrong. He says he no longer views abortion as a personal choice but a societal issue. Romney described Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, as continuing "to work its destructive logic throughout our society."
Two other Republican presidential hopefuls also addressed the pro-life convention, Texas Congressman Ron Paul and Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback. Brownback has ardently opposed abortion throughout his political career. He said this isn't the case for Romney.
"In the past he's said unequivocally that he's pro-choice. He's saying now that he's pro-life," Brownback said, adding that voters want a candidate who's consistent.
Romney was warmly received at the convention and got a standing ovation as he left the podium.
Jerry Needers, who was in the crowd, said he had been concerned about Romney's pro-choice past.
"I'm more comfortable with him now than I was before his speech," Needers said. For Needers, abortion is a threshold issue. "Without life what other issue is important?"
Not everyone was swayed by Romney's conversion.
Bob Enyart with Colorado Right to Life called Romney a liar. Enyart contends that Romney allowed abortions to be carried out in Massachusetts while he was governor.
"So he's not pro-life," Enyart said. "He has a primary conversion. Like so many Republican candidates who claim to find God… They become pro-life during the primary cycle. We have been lied to for a quarter of a century."
Enyart says Republican presidential candidates should not only oppose abortion but they should refuse to support any potential Republican nominee who is pro-choice.