“If it’s hurting him to bring up the abortion issue, then I’m OK if he doesn’t,” said Bradley Mattis, head of the Life Issues Institute in Cincinnati.
“I think our movement has to be savvy enough to understand how political campaigns are run,” he said. “And if they don’t, now would be a good time to have that revelation.”
Several other anti-abortion leaders echoed Mattis, saying that abortion opponents around the country have been coordinating their strategy to reflect a political realism that is not often associated with the prophetic tenor of anti-abortion activists. Romney, they say, is the best they will get, and he’s not really so bad, especially given the alternative.
“We don’t necessarily need in public office someone who is going to be a crusader on this issue. We just need someone who’s going to make it easier for us to do our job,” said the Rev. Frank Pavone, head of Priests for Life.
“We understand why a candidate wouldn’t make this their leading issue,” Pavone said, adding that he was comfortable with Romney’s positions. “I’ve found that the more I really try to sincerely understand how politics and government work, the more I’m OK with what might be seen as reason for criticism or concern. It’s just the nature of the way it works.”
Marjorie Dannenfelser, head of the Susan B. Anthony List, said she gets “outrageous” emails every day saying “it is your obligation to expose Romney’s weaknesses.”
But she rejects those demands as “off-the-charts unwise,” telling her followers that they need a healthy dose of political pragmatism. Romney isn’t perfect, she said, but Obama is far worse, and abortion opponents “have the power to make Romney follow through on his commitments” — if he is elected.
“Politics isn’t a science; it is not the art of the perfect,” she said. “It’s a tool.”
If anti-abortion groups can in fact preach that message of political realism, it could prove crucial for Romney, who has long struggled to present a clear position on abortion and reproductive rights.
As governor of Massachusetts a decade ago, Romney strongly supported abortion rights and said he was “effectively pro-choice.” The health care plan he shepherded into law, which was a model for Obama’s 2010 national reform, even included taxpayer funding for abortions.
In 2005, as Romney began his quest for the Republican presidential nomination, he announced that he had changed his views and was now “pro-life.”