Salt Lake Tribune, July 11, 2001, page B1:
While Salt Lake Organizing Committee President Mitt Romney insists he has no thought of using the 2002 Winter Games as a springboard to Utah elective office, he and his supporters are busy attempting to rewrite the history of his public position supporting abortion rights.
It is an issue that could seal the fate of any aspiring Republican politician in conservative Utah.
"I do not wish to be labeled pro-choice," Romney wrote this week in a letter to the editor of The Salt Lake Tribune.
"I have never felt comfortable with the labels associated with the abortion issue. Because the Olympics is not about politics, I plan to keep my views on political issues to myself."
Romney allies in recent days also contacted news media organizations to challenge the "pro-choice" description of Romney used in a recent Tribune story exploring his political prospects in Utah or Massachusetts.
"That upset him to be characterized as pro-choice," said Kem Gardner, a developer, political activist and Romney friend. "He has told me he is not pro-choice.
"He believes in the right choice -- and he believes the right choice [in the case of unwanted pregnancy] is adoption," said Gardner, a one-time Democratic gubernatorial candidate who acknowledged he would like to persuade Romney to run for governor -- as a Republican -- after the Olympics.
Asked about Romney's stand in favor of legal abortion during his unsuccessful 1994 campaign against Massachusetts Sen. Edward "Ted" Kennedy, Gardner said that was a carefully crafted position intended to sound more firm than it was.
"He was running against Ted Kennedy in a state that was 80 percent pro-choice and to have any chance at all, he was waffling," said Gardner.
Romney, in Moscow for meetings of the International Olympic Committee, declined to comment through a SLOC spokeswoman.
"He is declining interviews right now on that," said Nancy Volmer. "The letter he sent the editor should answer any questions."
Actually it only seems to raise more, clashing as it does with the stand he assumed six years ago.
"Mitt has always been consistent in his pro-choice position," then-Romney spokesman Charles Manning told the Boston Globe in September 1994.
The newspaper wrote about Romney's endorsement by an anti-abortion group even as the candidate "portrays himself as a strong supporter of abortion rights."
In the same interview, Manning described the differences between Romney and Kennedy on abortion as "tiny nuances."
During an Oct. 25, 1994, campaign debate, Romney described a family tragedy that shaped his own views in favor of "safe and legal" abortions. He revealed that a relative -- identified by the Boston Herald as the sister-in-law of Romney's sister -- had died in the 1960s as a result of a botched, illegal abortion.
"Since that time, my mother and my family have been committed to the belief that we can believe as we want, but we will not force our beliefs on others on that matter," Romney was quoted in the Globe.
Countering Kennedy's charge that he was flip-flopping on the abortion issue, Romney said during the same debate, "You will not see me wavering on that or be multiple choice."
"We considered him pro-choice," Beverly Cooper of Utahns for Choice said in an interview this week. She said Romney's stated position that he supported a woman's right to abortion but personally opposed the procedure was suggested to other candidates as a "good conservative choice position for Utah."
While such a position might work for a Democrat in the Beehive State, it probably would be a political death sentence for a Republican candidate. GOP nominating conventions are dominated by conservatives who view abortion as a life-and-death issue, literally.
"Romney would have a hard time running in Utah because he is Mr. Pro-Choice -- if he, in fact, is pro-choice," said lobbyist and Republican activist Doug Foxley. "I haven't heard him say that, but I have heard others say it about him."
Don Ruzicka, co-founder of the conservative Utah Republican Assembly, said a stand favoring abortion rights could doom an aspiring GOP hopeful.
"He would have a very difficult time getting through the process if he was clearly pro-choice, which we refer to as pro-abortion," said Ruzicka. "It would be very difficult to tap-dance around that. If there's any issue in Utah that is really kind of a litmus test, the abortion issue is one of them, if not the one."