The EFM Feature
Ultrasound, from Flickr user Michael Onarheim, used under a Creative Commons license

Washington Post columnist Kathleen Parker just nailed it on abortion:

So how does a person change from one position to the polar opposite on such a core issue as abortion? Easy. Countless women have changed their minds, thanks to pregnancy and birth. Countless others have suffered the agony of revelation too late following an abortion. Men overjoyed by fatherhood, or crushed by the loss of a child through abortion, have also changed their minds.

Romney’s own change of heart evolved not from personal experience but rather from a purposeful course of study. I know this because I know the man who instructed him in 2005 on the basics of embryonic life during the stem-cell research debate then taking place in Massachusetts. As governor at the time, Romney was under intense pressure to help flip a state law that protected embryos from stem-cell research. Some of that pressure came from Harvard University, Romney’s alma mater, where scientists hoped to assume a leading role in stem-cell research.

The politically expedient choice was obvious, but Romney took a more thoughtful approach and sought to educate himself before staking out a position. Enter William Hurlbut, a physician and professor of biomedical ethics at Stanford University Medical School. For several hours, Hurlbut and Romney met in the governor’s office and went through the dynamics of conception, embryonic development and the repercussions of research that targets nascent human life. It was not a light lunch.

The result of that conversation and others was a pro-life Romney, who kept his campaign promise to honor the state’s democratically asserted preference for abortion choice but also began a personal path that happened to serve him well, at least theoretically, among social conservatives. Was his conversion sincere? No one can know another’s heart, but Hurlbut is convinced that it was.

“Several things about our conversation still stand out strongly in my mind,” Hurlbut told me. “First, he clearly recognized the significance of the issue, not just as a current controversy but as a matter that would define the character of our culture way into the future.

“Second, it was obvious that he had put in a real effort to understand both the scientific prospects and the broader social implications. Finally, I was impressed by both his clarity of mind and sincerity of heart. . . . He recognized that this was not a matter of purely abstract theory or merely pragmatic governance, but a crucial moment in how we are to regard nascent human life and the broader meaning of medicine in the service of life.”

Whether one agrees with Hurlbut’s appraisal or Romney’s conclusions, this was at least a flip-flop of a higher order. Would that all our politics were so painstakingly crafted.

About Charles Mitchell

EFM's resident Yankee, Charles Mitchell, works in the non-profit arena in his native Pennsylvania. He and his wife, Charissa, live near the state capital of Harrisburg with their daughter, Adeline, and are members of a congregation of the Presbyterian Church in America.

Comments and Discussion

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10 Responses to “A Flip-Flop of a Higher Order”

  1. Lance in TX says:

    How can anyone say this is a flip-flop?? I would say this is a flip only! And a flip that all po-life people should be happy with!
    It took thought. It has not changed since then.

  2. Lynn says:

    I was one of the countless women who changed their mind or “flipped”…..growing up I was brainwashed that this was a matter of choice….its my body I can do what I want with it…then I had kids…I never referred to them as a “choice” when they were inside of me! They had a name, they kicked!! Why is it that people have no tolerance for someone who listens to another point of view but labels them as a flip flopper?…I label them teachable!

  3. Ryan in TX says:

    When someone converts to or joins the pro-life cause only to find himself shunned because of his previous views, the pro-life cause stifles its own ability to grow and gain strength.

    Its too bad that this movement isn’t accepting Romney with open arms.

  4. Steven says:

    I’d say even more than a “flip”. How about a “Sincere repentance and change”? Isn’t that what all we Christians are looking to achieve in each of our own lives? Mitt Romney is an excellent example of being willing to examine his own positions thoughtfully, and being humble enough to recognize where he can change when he’s wrong, and then is willing to change for a Higher Purpose than simply gaining any political points. Rather, its a simple sincere desire to be a better person. We all ought to learn from that.

    I think here lies a particular problem that exists in the current “conservative” movement. It’s a prideful refusal to ever compromise, ever. The problem with this is there are often issues that are not moral issues, per se, but are rather simply a choice based on the circumstances — that are things we could potentially compromise on, but we don’t out of a mis-placed “principle”. Also, there are many who are in fact wrong, (much like Mitt Romney was on Abortion), but who utterly refuse to recognize the fault and will not change. I think for the most part the things the current conservative movement stand for are correct, but its the attitude about it that is wrong! If the whole conservative movement could learn from Mitt Romney’s thoughtful and humble self-examination, then perhaps we’d see more success. Our failures are often self-inflicted because of this prideful and overly obstinate attitude.

  5. Jean says:

    I am so glad to stumble on this article. I found some voters don’t do research on candidates but take the talking heads opinions as the truth. We should not vote for someone who only echoes our frustration but for someone who has a good vision and the love for our country. Romney has good heart and character. I would think Christians should be happy to support him. A good person is not the one who only goes to church but the one who live a good clean and compassionate life. For this abortion issue seems to me that he has changed for the better.

  6. Ella in VA says:

    When debating Ted Kennedy, Mitt Romney mentioned that someone he knew had died from a back alley abortion. If I recall correctly, she was his peer and they were teens at that time. Imagine how that would influence you. He does not mention it anymore perhaps out of deference to the girl’s family.

    I’m sure to this day Mitt would never want anyone to become so desparate that they would do the same thing. But, Mitt humbly recognized that our society had become so callous that we would create and destroy life soley for scientific experiments such as cloning. That’s when Mitt searched his soul again and changed. It would have been easier to stay the same and never “flip”, but he knew and the Lord knew that his heart had been changed. Let people say what they will.

  7. The fact is that Mitt Romney could NEVER have been REALLY pro-abortion and still have served as a bishop and then as a stake president (overseeing SEVERAL bishops and their congregations) in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the so-called Mormon Church). Anybody who understands Mormonism will immediately recognize this.

    And, as a matter of fact, articles have been written that have mentioned (usually negatively) his attempts to counsel women against abortions.

    At most, Governor Romney changed from a “personally opposed” position to one of public, political opposition.

  8. Terry says:

    I’m beginning to think that some news media types can’t add two and two and come up with the correct answer. I mean, how hard is it to do just a little digging to determine what a certain sequence of events were, yet still arrive at a wrong conclusion?

    Example: Mitt Romney and his supposed flip-flopping on abortion. The accusation has been that he changed his stance on that issue for political expediency. If two and two really do make four, lets examine the sequence, or timeline, of that charge:

    In 2005, Romney was Governor of Massachusetts. He was pro-choice going into office–and since he had been pro-choice while campaigning for the governorship, he can’t be accused of flip-flopping to get elected. Shortly after taking office as governor, he had a sincere and soul-searching change of heart on abortion. Had he flip-flopped to become governor? Obviously not, because he already was governor. (Okay, throwing that flip-flop accusation out the window).

    Fast forward to 2008, three years later. Now Romney is running for president, and professes to be anti-abortion. Flip-flopping for political expediency? Impossible, because he changed his stance on abortion while still serving as governor and before knew he would be running for president. (Another flip-flop accusation goes tumbling out the window.)

    Now it’s 2011, Romney is running for president again, and he still claims to be anti-abortion. (Well, what do you know! That’s what he said he was when he campaigned in 2008!) Obviously, no flip-flop there. (*Splat!* goes another, well, you know.)

    Dear News People: How hard was that?
    Two plus two equals four after all–not five or six (if you’re honest, that is).

    The trouble is, the newsies seem to just parrot each other, instead of doing a little honest research of their own.

  9. Brent W says:

    @Daniel P: You can be pro-choice and still want to have tight restrictions on abortion . The LDS church counsels couples to take the issue very seriously, counsel with their ecclesiastical leaders, and pray very sincerely before considering an abortion – and then only in cases of incest, rape, and/or to spare the life/health of the mother. Since it would be inappropriate to *legislate* all of that for all American citizens, an LDS church member could still support pro-choice legislation just so the exceptions of incest/rape/mother’s health would still be legal options.

  10. Steve Bigelow says:

    Abortion is one of the most divisive issues America faces.
    The majority of Americans are not ready to give Zygotes “Personhood” for many reasons other than that they are just “baby killers” like the minority of radical “Pro-Lifers” try to frame them. Just a few reasons against such a radical change are:

    The Feds investigating every miscarriage as a Homicide: Negligent Homicide to 1st Degree Murder?

    Why stop at Zygote? The Sperm and Egg are certainly potential Human life. Maybe the Catholics had it right
    in banning all methods of contraception. And if they kept up a campaign that was vicious,
    judging and closed minded enough, maybe they could prevail against the current “Pro-Lifers” with their
    greater self-righteous moral high-ground?

    Most important: The majority in this country are just not ready for such an intrusive and radical change!
    Legislating that Human life begins at the moment of conception is an arbitrary decision that not even the
    Scientific and Medical community can agree on. God help us when we start legislating all choice in these
    very complicated personal decisions to the Federal Government! Talk about expanding the role of the
    Federal Government!

    I, just like many other Christians are absolutely against “late term abortion” when there is far more certainty as to viable human life! I don’t believe that anybody is for killing babies. This false choice is set up to polarize Americans and gain more support for a radical self-serving point of view.

    IF YOU ARE NOT TOTALLY IN AGREEMENT WITH THIS FRINGE YOU ARE LUMPED IN TO THE “PRO-ABORTION” CATEGORY AND JUDGED AS AN IMMORAL BABY KILLER!! This becomes a test of personal morality and even a “deal breaker” on your fitness for the Presidency.

    There are so many good people who are not for Abortion except in the case of Rape, Incest etc. They also can see that to take away all choice and privacy of a Woman and her family in this extremely sensitive and personal matter would cause our next Civil War. And this one, unlike “Freeing the Slaves” is not support by practical moral thinking.

    I laud Mitt Romney for not going against the majority of those in Massachusetts who were pro-choice when he was elected to be their Governor, while he still maintained his own personal moral choice of being against abortion.

    I also laud Mitt Romney for being intellectually open minded enough to compromise for the good of the Union instead of blindly pushing his own personal beliefs on the majority. We do not need such divisive and destructive
    moral debate when our country is at the brink of utter destruction.

    I am just as afraid of right wing radicals that want to change this country as much as I am Obama and his left wing radicals who are attempting to radically change America away from its super power status and beacon for personal freedom!

    I believe if we defrock such polarizing issues of their immediate importance, most good Americans will begin to understand the far more important issues that must be resolved and I can’t see anyone better than Mitt Romney to
    take on the most important debate in the continuing freedom of this country against Obama leading up to the 2012 election. With this election goes the direction of our Country and its Constitution. Without economic strength we will cease to exist sooner than most can even comprehend.

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