Kathryn Jean Lopez of National Review Online continues her promotion of Mitt Romney for POTUS in her latest article. In it she discusses one of the defining moments of his conversion to pro-life conservative:
Back in 2005, when he was just a governor and a real long shot for president, Romney highlighted the disregard for human life that pervades debates on bioethics. While fighting his alma mater (Harvard) and the biotech industry, Romney explained that, although he would not sign on to a bill that would allow (and fund) the creation of new embryos to be killed in scientific research (“therapeutic” cloning), he would agree to support experimentation on surplus frozen embryos from in vitro-fertilization procedures. But proponents of embryonic-stem-cell research refused to meet him in the middle; they wanted it all.
Romney caught my attention with something he said at the time: “All of the rhetoric has been, ‘We are throwing away embryos — surplus embryos — that could be used for stem-cell research and that makes no sense.’ . . . And now, now that I’ve said, ‘Okay, I support that,’ now [the other side says], ‘No, that’s insufficient. How could you possibly limit it to that?’ Well, that’s what they’ve been asking for.” Even though Romney was ready to reach a compromise, the other side was not — and would never be. They were all-or-nothing absolutists, and Romney had exposed them.
I've been in science long enough to know that there can never be too much funding and there's always too many restictions on research. Scientists love to push the envelope (not necessarily a bad thing), but this case shows how important it is for the public to have input into what ethical restictions should be made on research. Many scientists, with their belief in their absolute objectivity and disdain for religion, can become amoral and blind to what is ethical.
Cynics then and now would say the governor made a stand against cloning purely as an act of pandering: He judged that pro-life primary voters held the key to the White House, and so he took their side. But I never bought that explanation. If it were all about winning a future election, you’d think Romney would have gone all the way — and opposed the use of frozen embryos in fertility clinics in scientific research. Instead, it seemed to me, he actually believed what he was saying.
More important, though, he walked into a teaching opportunity and made use of it. It became clear to him that advocates of embryonic-stem-cell research would not accept any restrictions; there would be no compromise from those who wanted to experiment with life at its earliest stages because they wouldn’t admit that there could ever be a reason for caution. Romney sounded like a guy who understood the dangers posed by the legislation the biotech industry was pushing. He sounded like a leader who grasped what my friend and colleague Ramesh Ponnuru wrote about in his recent book; Massachusetts was on the brink of surrendering to the Party of Death.
Even though Romney lost to Harvard & Co., his pushback helped get us to the Virgin/Branson world we’re living in today. Now polite society is talking about alternatives to embryonic-stem-cell research. But even though Romney helped change the terms of this debate, people are skeptical about his overall commitment to protecting human life. And understandably so: His record — from not all that long ago: when he ran for Senate in 1994 and governor in 2002 — suggests something less than a full appreciation of the value of human life.
If his conversion is sincere and deep-seated, it should be relatively easy for him to make a compelling case. On cloning, Romney displayed passion, intelligence, and clarity that are rare from politicians on life issues (especially these more complicated, medically advanced ones). Those attributes could be a huge asset in the next president, who will confront the unfinished business of enacting a ban on human cloning. But only Romney himself can demonstrate his sincerity and commitment. If he’s the real deal, he will have to make the case that he is — quickly, confidently, and consistently.
I those of us that are pro-life should not be so quick to judge someone like Romney's conversion to pro-life as being politically motivated. We should welcome the fact that more people are becoming pro-life. In the last election, there were actually many pro-life Democrats running for congressional and senate seats. In my experience, most people I know become more pro-life as they become better educated about the science behind human development and issues such as human embryonic stem cell research (ESR). Growing up as a Mormon, I always felt that abortion was wrong, but because it was legal under Roe v. Wade I felt ambivalent about supporting laws that limited abortion. But as I learned more about human development (that brain waves begin at 8 weeks after conception, for instance), I determined that I would support all legislative efforts to limit abortion. I became more pro-life. I think Romney went through a similar process during his experience with ESR in Massachusetts.
In December Governor Romney told NRO, in part:
I do believe that the one-size-fits-all, abortion-on-demand-for-all-nine-months decision in Roe v. Wade does not serve the country well and is another example of judges making the law instead of interpreting the Constitution.
What I would like to see is the Court return the issue to the people to decide. The Republican party is and should remain the pro-life party and work to change hearts and minds and create a culture of life where every child is welcomed and protected by law and the weakest among us are protected. I understand there are people of good faith on both sides of the issue. They should be able to make and advance their case in democratic forums with civility, mutual respect, and confidence that our democratic process is the best place to handle these issues.
Lopez sums up Romney's dilemma perfectly.
What pro-lifers need is an assurance that he has come to a firm conclusion about the implications of unrestricted, life-destroying research, and that this conclusion would pervade a Romney administration. I buy it, but for many, he’s not yet made the case. Pro-lifers need to embrace converts for the life of their cause, but they also know to trust only after verification.
Do you buy it?
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Labels: embryonic stem cell research, ethics, pro-life