Romney's Pro-Life Conversion: Myth or Reality?

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has long cited a November 2004 meeting with a Harvard stem cell researcher as the moment that changed his long-held stance of supporting abortion rights to his current "pro-life" position opposing legal abortion.

But several actions Romney took mere months after that meeting call into question how deep-seated his conversion truly was.

Within two months of his epiphany on this issue, Romney appointed to a judgeship a Democrat who was an avowed supporter of abortion rights. In May 2005, Romney also declared his support for a House bill lifting President Bush's ban on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research -- a bill he now said he opposes.

Romney's Campaign Narrative

The November 2004 meeting is a crucial part of Romney's campaign narrative as he explains why he backed away from his long-standing support for abortion rights shortly before he began his quest for the presidency.

"It struck me very powerfully at that point, that the Roe v. Wade approach has so cheapened the value of human life that someone could think it's not a moral issue to destroy embryos that have been created solely for the purpose of research," he said at a campaign stop earlier this year in South Carolina. "I said to my chief of staff, and that's been two and a half years ago, I said to her, 'I want to make it very clear that I'm pro-life.'"

But just two months after he switched his position on abortion, Romney nominated a Democrat who ran for the state legislature as a "pro-choice" candidate to a perch on a state district court.

A 'Pro-Choice' Candidate

Matthew J. Nestor, a longtime Democrat who headed the Division of Securities under the Democratic secretary of state, was confirmed in March 2005 to serve in a lifetime post on the Somerville District Court.

When he ran for a state representative's seat as a self-described "conservative Democrat" in 1994, Nestor made clear that he considered himself "pro-choice," according to news reports from the time.

Romney aides note that Nestor was a career prosecutor who was not outspoken about his political beliefs. In addition, they say, Romney viewed posts in district courts -- which deal with criminal and civil matters but rarely if ever decide issues of constitutional rights -- differently than he did appellate court judgeships.

"The two main considerations were experience and having someone who was going to be tough on crime and able to handle the incredibly hectic pace of a busy district court," said Peter Flaherty, Romney's deputy campaign manager and a deputy chief of staff while Romney was governor. "Matt Nestor's credentials and qualifications for a district court post are unimpeachable."

The Role of Judicial Appointments

Few issues are as important to social conservative activists as judicial appointments. Romney and the other major Republican candidates have vowed to appoint "strict constructionist" judges to federal courts if elected president -- presumably, though not certainly, judges who would be open to reversing Roe v. Wade.

And no legislative issue has been more compelling to anti-abortion activists in recent years than the fight over funding for embryonic stem cell research, which has passed the House and Senate twice and likely faces its second presidential veto next week.

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