A decade ago, while running for Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney vowed to "preserve and protect a woman's right to choose" abortion.
On Thursday, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee won the endorsement of both the oldest and largest anti-abortion group in the nation — the National Right to Life Committee — and one of the newer groups with a large wad of cash ready to spend on his behalf — the Susan B. Anthony List.
National Right to Life Committee President Carol Tobias said Romney's former position supporting abortion rights doesn't bother her or her organization.
"The pro-life movement is filled with converts," she told reporters at a news conference. "We love people who have changed their position. Mitt Romney admits that he has done that and we are happy to be working with him."
The Susan B. Anthony list alone says it will spend "$10 to $12 million in Senate and presidential battleground states mobilizing pro-life voters to ensure victory."
Said Tobias: "We have absolutely no question — no doubt about his pro-life convictions — and we will be happy to support him as a pro-life president."
Why, then, did the group wait until after Romney's nomination was basically a foregone conclusion to make its endorsement?
Because, said Tobias, "every candidate who has run for the Republican nomination for president took a pro-life position and kept the life issues at the forefront of this race."
In fact, the national group publicly reprimanded a state affiliate, Georgia Right to Life, when it endorsed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who ended his campaign this week.
This year is markedly different from 2008, when National Right to Life got in early — too early, perhaps. It endorsed former Sen. Fred Thompson of Tennessee, whose campaign fizzled fast.
"In 2008, there was a pro-abortion candidate in the GOP primary," Tobias said, referring to former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. "And we wanted to make sure that he did not get the nomination. So we wanted to select a pro-life candidate to support" from the start.
What is clear this time is that the group's top priority is less the election of Romney than the defeat of President Obama. Indeed, much of the news conference consisted not of singing Romney's praises but of chronicling Obama's positions.
"On his second day in office, Jan. 22, 2009, President Obama issued a statement reaffirming his commitment to defend Roe v. Wade, which gave us abortion on demand," said Tobias.
Then, she said, there's his position on stem-cell research.
"President Obama authorizes taxpayer funding of research that requires killing human embryos," she said.
And it's not just abortion. Raimundo Rojas, the group's director of Hispanic outreach, emphasized the group's long-standing position that the 2010 national health law could lead to the rationing of health care. He aimed his comments squarely at Hispanic immigrants, a key voting bloc.
"What they don't understand is why is it in this country their daughter is being denied treatment by a junta of bureaucrats," he said, after delivering much of his statement in Spanish. "And that's the looming tragic reality" of President Obama's health care law.
The Romney endorsements did not go unnoticed by the leading abortion-rights groups, who have long since written him off as a potential ally.
"So much for the idea that Romney will try to move to the middle in the general election," said Nancy Keenan of NARAL Pro-Choice America, in a statement about the Susan B. Anthony List endorsement. "One of the major groups behind the War on Women is now rewarding Romney for supporting policies that would undermine women's freedom and privacy at every turn."
The advocacy arm of Planned Parenthood, for its part, released a video suggesting that when it comes to women's health, Romney's positions are the same as Santorum's.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And I'm Audie Cornish.
Now we explore what's shaping up to be an awkward political marriage: on one side, Mitt Romney; on the other, the many social conservatives who have spent this primary season voting for anyone but Mitt Romney.
SIEGEL: In a moment, we'll hear about his standing with evangelical voters, but first, some good news for the candidate. Romney got a big endorsement today from the nation's oldest and largest anti-abortion group.
NPR's Julie Rovner has that story.
JULIE ROVNER, BYLINE: National Right to Life Committee president Carol Tobias wasted no time getting to the point of today's president conference.
CAROL TOBIAS: National Right to Life is proud and honored to endorse Governor Mitt Romney for president of the United States.
ROVNER: But that was nearly the last time Romney's name was mentioned for much of the event. Most of the rest was devoted to why the organization is so devoted to making sure President Obama doesn't win a second term. For starters, says Tobias, there's his overall position on abortion.
TOBIAS: On his second day in office, January 22nd, 2009, President Obama issued a statement reaffirming his commitment to defend Roe v. Wade, which gave us abortion on demand.
ROVNER: And it's just not abortion. Raimundo Rojas, the group's director of Hispanic Outreach, emphasized the group's longstanding position that the 2010 health law could lead to the rationing of health care. He aimed his comments squarely at Hispanic immigrants, a key voting bloc.
RAIMUNDO ROJAS: What they don't understand is why is it in this country their daughter is being denied treatment by a junta of bureaucrats. And that's the looming tragic reality of the affordable health care act
ROVNER: But a lingering question is why did such an influential group wait so long to make its endorsement? In 2008, National Right to Life got in early - too early, perhaps. It endorsed former Senator Fred Thompson, whose campaign fizzled fast. Tobias said 2008 was different.
TOBIAS: In 2008, there was a pro-abortion candidate in the Republican primary.
ROVNER: That would have been former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.
TOBIAS: And we wanted to make sure that he did not get the nomination. So we wanted to select a pro-life candidate to support.
ROVNER: This year, she said, all the candidates were sufficiently anti-abortion to satisfy the group. That includes Romney, who had a very different position when he was running for office in Massachusetts. Here he is in a debate with the late Senator Ted Kennedy in 1994.
MITT ROMNEY: I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country. I have since the time that mom took that position when she ran in 1970, as a U.S. Senate candidate. I believe that since Roe v Wade has been the law for 20 years, that we should sustain and support it.
ROVNER: But that doesn't bother Tobias.
TOBIAS: We love people who have changed their position; Mitt Romney admits that he has done that and we are happy to be working with him. We have absolutely no question; no doubt about his pro-life convictions and we will be happy to support him as a pro-life president.
ROVNER: And National Right to Life isn't alone. Romney also got the nod today from another prominent anti-abortion group, the Susan B. Anthony List.
Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.