- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 7, 2007

BOSTON (AP) — Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has had an epiphany on abortion — not once, but twice.

The first time was when Mr. Romney was a young man in the 1960s and his brother-in-law’s sister — an engaged-to-be-married teen who became pregnant — died in a botched illegal abortion.

Roughly three decades later, while campaigning for the Senate in 1994, Mr. Romney described that tragedy as the event that triggered his conclusion that regardless of personal beliefs, abortion should be safe and legal.

He repeated that position while running for Massachusetts governor in 2002. In both contests, he attempted to underscore his support for abortion rights as he sought the favor of moderate and liberal voters.

Today, as Mr. Romney plots a national campaign for president — he makes a formal announcement on Tuesday — he is seeking to reassure social conservatives pivotal to winning the Republican nomination that he sincerely opposes abortion. He describes himself as pro-life, argues that Roe v. Wade should be replaced with state abortion regulations and cites the science he studied amid a legislative debate over embryonic stem-cell research as the basis for his position.

Mr. Romney says his moment of illumination about the immorality of abortion came two years ago during a meeting with an embryonic stem-cell researcher.

“The comment was made that this really wasn’t a moral issue because the embryos were terminated or destroyed at 14 days,” Mr. Romney said during a recent campaign stop in Mount Pleasant, S.C., in a reprise of other recent explanations of his thinking on abortion.

“And 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, and I said to my chief of staff, and that’s been 2 years ago, I said to her, ‘I want to make it very clear that I’m pro-life.’ ”

The Harvard University researcher with whom Mr. Romney met, Douglas Melton, has disputed Mr. Romney’s recollection of their Nov. 9, 2004, meeting in the governor’s Statehouse office.

“Governor Romney has mischaracterized my position. We didn’t discuss killing or anything related to it,” Mr. Melton said in a December statement to the Boston Globe. “I explained my work to him, told him about my deeply held respect for life and explained that my work focuses on improving the lives of those suffering from debilitating diseases.”

Mr. Melton did not respond to an interview request from the Associated Press.

Mr. Romney’s acknowledged abortion switch — and the abandonment of such a deeply personal justification for his initial position — has some critics asking whether he has a philosophical core.

“While Mitt Romney says he’s not a multiple-choice candidate, his record shows that he has routinely changed his position on everything from abortion to taxes,” said Stacie Paxton, a spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee.

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