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Before Romney's Public Conversion, Confusion From Both Pro-Life And Pro-Choice Activists

Romney's 2005 abortion switch sparked mass confusion in Massachusetts. His claim at the time: He hadn't changed positions at all!

Posted on April 18, 2012, at 5:06 p.m. ET

Romney campaigns in Bethel Park, PA. (AP)

Romney campaigns in Bethel Park, PA. (AP)

In a late May of 2005, the heretofore pro-choice governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney, gave an interview to USA Today.

“Understand, over time one’s perspective changes somewhat," he said. I’m in a different place than I was probably in 1994, when I ran against Ted Kennedy, in my own views on that."

The interview prompted immediate questions, but Romney's first reaction was forceful: His position hadn't changed at all.

'I think I've said it a few hundred times through my campaign the same thing I'll say today,” Romney said, “I personally do not favor abortion. But as governor of Massachusetts, I will keep the laws as they exist.”

The answer left both sides of the heated abortion wars utterly perplexed, and both sides wrote letters to the Governor, pressing him Governor to clarify.

''We honestly don't know where he stands on this issue,” Marie Sturgis, executive director and legislative director for Massachusetts Citizens for Life, said at the time. (Romney had publicly renounced her endorsement during a 2002 debate.)

Joseph M. Scheidler, then the national director of the Pro-Life Action League, detected a shift in his position saying Romney was “''coming around" to a pro-life stance. Soon, however, following his statements being published in the Boston Globe Schneider commented that he started getting calls from anti-abortion activists instating Romney hadn’t changed.

''I started getting a lot of calls saying, 'This guy is no good, he's just playing politics, he's trying to get both sides,' " Scheidler told the Boston Globe in a phone telephone interview following the backlash from his statements.

A Boston Globe columnist said Romney's comments to USA Today made clear that Romney had used Massachusetts as little more than launching pad and had faked moderate positions to run for a liberal electorate.

And one of Romney’s top strategists, Mike Murphy, was quoted in National Review more or less confirming that impression: Romney was “a pro-life Mormon faking it as a pro-choice friendly,” Murphy said.

“It is obvious Romney moderated his views to run in Massachusetts. It is obvious he used Massachusetts as a short-term launching pad for a national campaign. It is obvious he is now running against the state he said he wanted to lead, because running against the people who elected him is the perceived path to a bigger prize,” Joan Vennochi wrote in 2005 as confusion spread on Romney’s abortion position.

Romney’s pledged to still uphold Massachusetts’s laws, saying he promised to not change the laws in anyway pro-choice or pro-life. After his comments in USA Today Romney said he was “absolutely committed to my promise to maintain the status quo with laws relating to abortion and choice. And so far I’ve been able to successfully do that.”

In retrospect, however, few doubt that Romney's position on abortion has changed over the years, and Romney's campaign seeks to explain it, not deny it.