RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
On the issue of abortion, Mitt Romney appears to have changed his position from being in favor of abortion rights to being opposed. But as NPR's Julie Rovner reports, there are some who think he never flipped at all.
JULIE ROVNER, BYLINE: One thing is clear: Romney's public position on abortion has certainly changed. Back in 1994, when he was running unsuccessfully for the Senate against the late Edward Kennedy, here's what Romney said.
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MITT ROMNEY: 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. I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years, that we should sustain and support it.
ROVNER: Romney built on that position eight years later, during his successful run for governor in 2002.
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ROMNEY: I will preserve and protect a woman's right to choose, and am devoted and dedicated to honoring my word in that regard. I will not change any provisions of Massachusetts's pro-choice laws.
ROVNER: But that's almost exactly 180 degrees different from his position now. Here's Romney last month, talking to Fox News host and former presidential candidate Mike Huckabee.
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ROMNEY: Well, I'd make sure that the progress that's been made to provide for life, and to protect human life, is not progress that would be reversed. My view is that the Supreme Court should reverse Roe v. Wade and send back to the states the responsibility for deciding whether they're going to have abortion legal in their state or not.
ROVNER: So what happened in the interim? Well, according to Romney, he changed his mind about abortion in 2004 during a fight in Massachusetts over stem cell research using human embryos. In November of that year, he met with a prominent embryonic stem cell researcher to discuss the issue.
RON SCOTT: The story goes that he was put off by the cavalier way the medical researcher talked about disposing of excess frozen embryos.
ROVNER: Ron Scott is a fellow Mormon, distant cousin of Romney's, and a journalist who's just written a new biography of the former governor.
SCOTT: And that's what led him, he says, to change his mind on abortion. And I'm not sure of all the intricacies therein. But it was a moment for him, apparently.
ROVNER: Only there's a problem with Romney's story. The candidate has said repeatedly that the researcher, Harvard University's Douglas Melton, used the word killing to describe what happens to two-week-old embryos in order to proceed with the research. Only Melton says he never used that word. Melton said he was too busy with his research to record an interview. But he said in an email that he continues to, quote, have a distinctly different recollection of the meeting, and our conversation, than Romney does.
Romney's campaign didn't respond to repeated requests for comment. Whatever happened in that meeting, however, from that point on Romney dropped his support for abortion rights.
And Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, says that support was just a pretense anyway.
NANCY KEENAN: In Massachusetts, when he was running as governor, I think - very liberal state, a state that was pro-choice - he was playing to the audience. And here again, he made promises to the pro-choice community that he did not keep.
ROVNER: That includes his 2005 veto of a bill to provide the so-called morning-after pill to rape victims - legislation that was signed, ironically, by other governors who also ended up in this year's GOP presidential field, including Utah's Jon Huntsman. Still, Romney has always carefully parsed his position on abortion. Like many Catholic Democrats, he said he was personally opposed, while allowing others to make the choice for themselves. Now, he appears to have reversed that latter part. The question remains, however, whether that change will convince the base of his party.
MARJORIE DANNENFELSER: Well, I believe that he is a true convert. I'm a convert to this position as well, and we ought to always be in a position of welcoming people to our side, which I do.
ROVNER: Marjorie Dannenfelser heads the anti-abortion group the Susan B. Anthony List. Earlier this summer, the group asked all the GOP candidates to sign a pledge supporting a series of anti-abortion positions. Romney is now the only major candidate who declined to sign. His campaign said at the time the pledge would limit who he could appoint to some key positions in his administration. Dannenfelser says Romney still has more work to do to convince doubters that he'll need to win the Republican nomination.
DANNENFELSER: Honestly, anyone can wear the sticker that says pro-life. What really matters is the filling out of the content of what that means. And your leadership is what will show that.
ROVNER: Assuming, of course, he gets the chance. Julie Rovner, NPR News.
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