GREENVILLE, S.C. — Rick Perry denounced Mitt Romney’s shift to oppose abortion rights as an act of political expedience during a “personhood” forum Wednesday night.
“It is clear to most of us that this was a choice of convenience, a choice of political convenience,” Perry said. “Gov. Romney has been on both sides of the issue of life.”
Perry went on to question the authenticity of Romney’s position, saying he couldn’t understand shifting on the issue later in life.
“How do you change your position — you’re pro-life then you’re not — in your 50s?” Perry said.
The event, sponsored by Personhood USA, a nationwide group advocating that the law should consider a person to exist immediately at conception, was attended by all of the remaining candidates in the Republican field, with the exception of Romney.
Each of the Republican candidates touted his record fighting legislation protecting abortion rights, all signaling they would support a constitutional amendment banning the practice — without exceptions for cases of rape or incest. The candidates each also vowed to veto any bills that contain language providing for federally funded abortions.
“We have to have a society that values life, and when we see organizations out there that try to deliberately undermine that value … stop it,” Rick Santorum said. “I will not sign any appropriations bill that includes funding for Planned Parenthood or any group that feels the way they do.”
The former Pennsylvania senator stressed that the abortion issue was one on which he fought passionately, despite the political consequences — perhaps a response to a room that seemed largely tilted to favor Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, the two candidates polling best among conservatives in South Carolina.
“We need someone who every day reminds us who we are,” Santorum said.
Gingrich, meanwhile, devoted a substantial part of his time to the issues of human cloning and genetic engineering, warning of a future where foreign dictators would attempt scientific experiments aimed at fundamentally changing the human genetic code.
The former House Speaker went on to say that genetic engineering would be “at the heart of the next 40 years” and that a major challenge for the United States would be combating dictators “somewhere on this planet” with “alien” values regarding the sanctity of life.
Santorum picked up on that theme, warning of experiments that might genetically modify humans to glow in the dark.
“Science is not an ethics-free or moral-free zone,” Santorum said. “Science will go wherever they want to go because they feel no moral constraints.”
But in one of the few differences espoused by the candidates throughout the evening, Ron Paul argued that it is not America’s place to dictate social policy to foreign nations. The Texas congressman, appearing from Washington via satellite after returning to the Capitol to cast a symbolic vote expressing disapproval on raising the federal debt ceiling, said the country should instead strive to set a moral example.
“It’s hard when we’re not pure on the abortion issue to tell China what to do,” Paul said.
Despite not appearing in person at the event, Paul received the most vocal greeting of the field, with supporters jumping up to chant his name when he concluded his remarks. That response was rivaled only by that of Gingrich: Once the former Speaker, who spoke second out of the four candidates, concluded his remarks, the audience noticeably thinned.