Covering Romney? Some Tips for Journalists Tracking Mitt’s Changing Position on “Personhood”


Reporters are having a real hard time sorting out Mitt Romney’s position on personhood. Here’s a quick and easy way for journos to think about the issue, and Romney’s evolving stance on it.

Personhood has two tracks: federal and state. At the federal level, proponents are trying to pass a law giving fertilized eggs (or zygotes) the legal rights of a “person,” under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. constitution. At the state level, the personhood campaign wants to pass amendments to state constitutions defining life as beginning at conception.

Romney on federal personhood. Romney has made it clear that he’s currently against federal personhood. This is a flip from his position in 2007, when he stated on national TV that he favored a GOP platform position supporting a “human life amendment” to the U.S. Constitution, which would ban abortion at the federal level. When Romney said this, he believed, like he does now, that life begins at conception, so Romney’s federal ban on abortion, based on his definition of “life,” would have met the requirements of Personhood USA for a national personhood law. But last year at a GOP prez forum, Romney abandoned this position because now thinks adding personhood to the U.S. Constitution could set up a “constituional crisis.”

Romney on state personhood. In October, Romney told Fox News’ Mike Huckabee that he “absolutely” would have signed an amendment to the Massachusetts constitution establishing that life begins a conception. Later, Romney’s spokespeople backed up this position by telling Politico’s Ben Smith and other reporters that Romney supports “efforts to ensure recognition that life begins at conception” and that “these matters should be left up to states to decide.”

Summary:  Romney isn’t completely clear on this issue (I’m rolling my eyes as I write that), but  it’s fair to say that Romney has flip flopped on personhood during his career. It’s also a fact that he’s currently against a federal personhood law but for state-based personhood amendments (consistent with his “life-begins-at-conception” belief and his statement to Huckabee).

One prominent journalist who’s clear on Romney’s personhood stance is Curtis Hubbard, editorial page editor of the centrist-right Denver Post. He qualifies as an expert on personhood, having directed news coverage of the personhood ballot initiative in Colorado in 2010. He recently stated on Colorado Public Television, KBDI, “Romney already came out for personhood at the state level.”

Reporters nationally will have a chance to clarify Romney’s views on personhood Saturday, as they report on Florida’s Personhood USA-sponsored presidential forum. Gingrich, Paul, and Santorum will attend.

Romney will not attend the event, replicating his pattern of skipping such forums in South Carolina and Iowa, but reporters can contrast his views with personhood promoters Gingrich, Paul, and Santorum.

Personhood USA may also hold a prez forum in Colorado, prior to its Feb. 7 caucus. Personhood USA legal analyst Gualberto Garcia Jones emailed me yesterday, in response to my query, that Colorado is a “definite candidate” for a personhood forum.

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