His Change of Heart on Abortion

  1. Ψ Share
    Related topics:
    Romney as Governor

    Eric Fehrnstrom   Romney political adviser

    Eric Fehrnstrom has worked for Romney for a decade, first as his press secretary in Romney’s 2002 run for governor of Massachusetts. Prior to his work in politics, Fehrnstrom worked in public relations and as a reporter for the Boston Herald. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted by producer Gabrielle Tenenbaum on Aug. 21, 2012.

    There's also a big difference between running as a Republican in Massachusetts and running for the Republican nomination on a national stage. ... As his adviser, what were you counseling, and how did those conversations take place?

    Well, look, you talk about his position. Really, [there was] one significant issue that Mitt had a change of heart on, and that was abortion. And when he ran in 2002 for governor, he told the people of Massachusetts that he was personally pro-life, but he wanted to make a deal with them, and the deal was that he would not make any changes to the abortion laws of the commonwealth. And that's a pledge that he kept all four years of his term.

    But he also had to confront issues, like the stem cell debate and the subject of cloning human life. And confronted with these issues, Mitt Romney wrote an editorial for The Boston Globe back in 2007, and he laid out what his views were on the subject of life, and he concluded that he was firmly pro-life. Now, that happened some years ago now, but that was the one significant issue that he had a change of heart on.

    But Mitt Romney was running based on his professional résumé, as a person who could fix things that were broken. He did it in private business; he did it at the Olympics; he did it for the commonwealth of Massachusetts.

    And I think what's interesting about Mitt is that in every enterprise that he's been involved in, the stakeholders have benefited from his leadership. The stakeholders at Bain, of course, would have been the investors who saw high rates of return from the investments that Mitt Romney led. The stakeholders at the Olympics would be, well, all the members of the Olympic movement who had a stake in seeing those Games turned around and staged successfully, and they were. And then, of course, the stakeholders in his governorship were the people of Massachusetts, who saw him turn around a bad state economy.

  2. Ψ Share

    Scott Romney   Mitt Romney's older brother

    (Text only) Six years older than Mitt Romney, Scott Romney is a fundraiser for his younger brother. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted on August 9, 2012.

    Read the full interview »

    ... He's been called a flip-flopper, that he's changed his positions over time. What's your reaction to that?

    I think there are narratives that certain people in the press like to put on people, and they try to do it. and other candidates try to tack onto it and so forth.

    Mitt did change his mind about pro-life. He was more neutral about it, but he changed to become a pro-life person actually in 2006 and has been consistent about that.

    Really there's nothing else that he really had a major change on. ... There's only one thing that he changed dramatically on, and so I think the rest of it is all just a bunch of press baloney.

    Talk to me about that one thing that he did change his mind on. What are the conversations you've had with him about that?

    First of all, when he was running for Senate, he felt that it wasn't his role to have a decision in that. When he ran for governor really was more significant. He felt that he was not going to be able to change the laws of Massachusetts. He felt that they were established, and he had sympathy for people feeling differently about it. He said he was personally pro-life, but he was going to let people make up their own decisions, and he wasn't going to interfere with the law.

    But then when he started investigating cloning and really getting involved with it, and he was with a professor of one of the schools, and the professor said, "Well, it's all right, we put them in this petri dish and then we just kill some of them," and all of a sudden he thought, "You know, this really is about life."

    It really hit him hard. It hit him in that moment that he really was pro-life, and he needed to let everybody know that he was, and that that's how he was going to conduct the remainder of his term as governor. And that's what he did.

    He was always tolerant of people, of gay and lesbian [people] and had people in his administration, felt there should be equal rights and equal opportunity. So the people that think he changed his mind on that will say, "Look what positive things he said about equal rights."

    But he was always against gay marriage and never for it. So they say, "Gee, he was for equal rights, so he must have been for gay marriage." Well, back in '94, nobody was talking about gay marriage.

    He didn't change his mind on other topics. He changed his mind on the one thing. It's frustrating more than anything else when you can't get the message out and people continue to distort what you believe. But, you know, that's what happens. So you've got to fight through it and eventually get your message out.

  3. Ψ Share
    Related topics:

    Douglas Gross   Iowa chairman, Romney 2008

    (Text only) Douglas Gross is a lawyer in Des Moines who has worked on numerous campaigns and held a variety of positions in state government. Prior to his work for Romney, he was a fundraiser for George W. Bush. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted on August 28, 2012.

    Read the full interview »

    On those social issues, though, the candidate that ran against Ted Kennedy -- pro-abortion, highly supportive of gay rights -- to the person who ran --

    Do I think that's where he is personally?

    No, but it's interesting for someone to have that big of a swing.

    Well, that's a problem. That was a problem for him because people thought there was lack of authenticity as a result of that.

    The problem with social issues for Mitt is that social issues, by definition, are issues of morality. And most people don't think you compromise on morality. Yet Mitt looks at social issues rationally, not morally. And if you look at them rationally, you feather, and you move, and you adjust, and you do all these kinds of things.

    But [to] the folks who really are driven by those, those are issues that can't be compromised. Those can't be feathered. They can't be adjusted. And so that's what makes it very difficult for him to move those folks. …

    One of the things that people have questioned is, who will Mitt Romney be, especially with this question on social issues and with the parties being so divided at this point. Who is that president when he gets in? ...

    Some people believe that Mitt Romney is sort of a transitional figure in the Republican Party in the sense that he is still an establishment Republican at his core, yet the young leadership in the party is moving more and more toward a right-wing ideological party, focused more on ideological concerns than pragmatic concerns.

    And I think Mitt Romney has the ability to be a transformational president. I thought his selection of Paul Ryan was inspired, because what he did when he selected Paul Ryan was politically he took care of his base with one fell swoop. So it was a smart political move and at the same time made the election clearly about something, about the future direction of the country. ...


  4. Ψ Share

    Philip Barlow   Mormon historian

    (Text only) A professor Mormon History & Culture at Utah State University, Barlow worked with Mitt Romney in the leadership of their Massachusetts Mormon ward. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted on July 19, 2012.

    Read the full interview »

    ... Does it surprise you, knowing the man that you knew back in, during your time together in Boston, that he's evolved to be very conservative, someone who will reverse Roe v. Wade?

    It does not particularly surprise me that Mitt Romney or any other Mormon changes position on abortion over time as they learn more. He was a faithful, loyal Mormon, worthy, eligible to be a Mormon bishop and a state president, and have the policy of, "I frown and would draw a pretty tight circle around when abortion is legitimate," but that is outweighed by the fact that I have no right to impose that on other people's choices. One can be a loyal, believing, practicing, even an official of the Mormon Church and have the opposite view. So it doesn't particularly surprise me that he changed position. One can find ground there within the compass of Mormonism.

    I should say that Mormons are famously, in the United States, Republican. Utah is famously a very red state. But that was not so in earlier decades. It was much more balanced before about 1970, the early 1970s, between Republicans and Democrats. And when Mormonism in this country took a sharply conservative political turn was precisely on the Roe v. Wade decision and the cultural revolution that brought casual sex, the undermining of traditional families and casual drug usage into the culture. Mormons responded with a veer to the right. So it isn't that Mormonism is inherently unbalanced in its conservative orientation. That happened in a historical and cultural context. ...

  5. Ψ Share

    Philip Barlow   Mormon historian

    (Text only) A professor Mormon History & Culture at Utah State University, Barlow worked with Mitt Romney in the leadership of their Massachusetts Mormon ward. This is an edited transcript of an interview conducted on July 19, 2012.

    Read the full interview »

    ... There are the stories that you hear in the press about sort of some of the more difficult decisions he would have had to deal with, and some of the more controversial in terms of advising women, especially, when it came to abortion or other difficult choices in their life. Talk to me about that side of it, and the difficult sort of challenges he faced in those moments, and what he would have needed to confront as a representative of the church?

    Yes, well, I've read the stories criticizing Mitt -- and, by the way, his politics are somewhat different than mine, so it's not that I'm trying to sell his candidacy.

    But as far as his character and navigating the difficult decisions that he would have to make, I've seen the stories. I know and have been in the homes of the women making those accusations. I like them. One of them remains a good friend.

    But we're clearly not getting all of the story. We're not getting Mitt Romney's side of such stories, because those are considered, in the church, confidential matters. One would be out of place, out of bounds, by commenting on the specifics of situations like that.

    But Mormonism has a conservative, but, in my estimation, not a rabid policy toward abortion, and Mormons debate when two cells and their developments become a human being. That's not clear. But because it's not clear, the risk of taking a human life just because it can't speak for itself induces them to have a very conservative position. We don't know when that life is a human, and we ought to be very careful with that. Mitt would, as far as I know, share that conservative understanding of when an abortion might be appropriate. So unless the mother's health is at stake, for instance, generally the advice is against that.

    Mormonism also has -- and Mitt was a typical Mormon in that sense as far as I can make out -- a very keen regard for human agency, that is, human individual decisions. So, one, it's your job to make the call, but as far as church counsel goes, generally it would be: Abortion is a bad idea. Let us help you with an adoption agency. Or there's a vast support network. So he would've approached things like that. ...



Privacy Policy   Journalistic Guidelines   PBS Privacy Policy   PBS Terms of Use   Corporate Sponsorship
FRONTLINE is a registered trademark of WGBH Educational Foundation.
Web Site Copyright ©1995-2012 WGBH Educational Foundation
PBS is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization.