KANSAS CITY — Hoping to win over doubters in a key Republican constituency, Mitt Romney told hundreds of anti-abortion activists today that his conversion to their cause is genuine and that he “made the right decision.”
Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, is seeking the GOP presidential nomination against others who have had consistent anti-abortion records. He has picked up some support among social conservatives for declaring his anti-abortion position, which he says stems from a 2004 debate in his state over stem cell research and human cloning.
Romney participated in a forum for Republican candidates on the second day of the National Right to Life Committee’s annual convention in Kansas City. The committee describes itself as the nation’s largest grass-roots, anti-abortion group.
Romney’s speech was interrupted several times by applause.
“My experience as governor taught me firsthand that the threat to our culture is real,” Romney said. “When responsibility for life or ending life was placed in my hands, I made the right decision.”
Romney’s speech came after an Associated Press-Ipsos poll that showed former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, an abortion-rights supporter, leading the GOP field. Abortion opponents worry about Giuliani getting the nomination, although many still haven’t decided which candidate to support.
Henry Potrykus, of Lindenhurst, Ill., said he is supporting long-shot GOP candidate Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback because he has been consistent on his anti-abortion views.
“Romney’s been flip-flopping,” he said. “He was pro-abortion.”
Romney sought to dispel such an impression Friday, saying that while running for Massachusetts governor in 2002, he promised not to change the state’s abortion laws, which meant vetoing abortion-rights legislation.
Some participates at the convention noted that many anti-abortion activists joined the cause after reconsidering support for abortion rights.
Brownback, Texas Rep. Ron Paul and California Rep. Duncan Hunter also were speaking during the convention forum Friday.
Brownback has remained in single digits in polls, but he received plenty of attention Friday from convention delegates who clustered around him and took pictures with him. Before his speech, he told reporters he believes Republicans need to expand their position from being “pro life” to also being “whole life,” encompassing causes such as ending violence in Sudan’s Darfur region.
“I’ve been fighting this fight for a long time and I believe in it and I think it’s the central social, moral issue of our day,” Brownback said.
As for the abortion opponents who back Romney, Brownback said, “I’d say, ‘Look at me first.’ I’m somebody who’s been consistent.”