I’m employed by a large pro-life organization and I can tell you that pro-lifers have been very receptive to Romney’s conversion story. Your advice that he “would probably be better off not talking about it all” is off the mark. If he doesn’t address why he’s pro-life after years of being mildly pro-choice, voters won’t accept that he’s sincere. But if he can openly share his conversion story, pro-lifers will gladly accept him into our ranks. ~Nathan Burd (of Evangelicals for Mitt) to Rich Lowry

Except that Lowry’s remarks advising Romney to keep mum about the subject were in the context of saying that he didn’t find the conversion story very credible or convincing at all.  Lowry said:

His account of how he came to change his view on abortion—through the issue of stem-cell research—isn’t very compelling and he would probably be better off not talking about it at all. Fairly or not, people aren’t going to believe it.

Indeed, becoming ardently pro-life by way of an acquaintance with stem-cell research is about as likely as deciding to become an Athonite monk because of exposure to the idea of intelligent design.  It isn’t implausible that thinking and reflecting on the matter over some time might eventually lead you on a path that ends at being ardently pro-life, but to make the leap Romney claims to have made in the space of a year or so is very hard to take.  Lowry is not alone in finding this story to be pretty far-fetched.  As Byron York wrote late last year:

Romney’s description of his conversion strikes some activists on both sides of the abortion issue as unusual. “People do change their minds,” says the pro-choice Kogut. “I’ve seen it. But this is different. It seems completely timed with his presidential ambitions.” Oran Smith, pro-life, questions Romney’s explanation in a more subtle way. In talks with conservative Christians, Smith points out, Romney has often addressed the issue of his Mormon faith by saying something to the effect of, “Our faiths are different, but they bring us to the same positions on the issues.” But by all accounts, Romney was a faithful Mormon when he was solidly pro-choice, and he is a faithful Mormon today when he is solidly pro-life. How, precisely, did his faith bring him to different positions, then and now? “Christians generally like for someone to have a conversion experience and a mea culpa moment,” says Smith. “But he doesn’t have that to turn to. He can’t say, ‘My faith changed, and therefore my views changed.’ That’s the normal thing with Republicans who move to the right on some issues — they claim to have had some spiritual transformation.”

Another problem Romney might have is the sheer recent-ness of his change of views, which occurred at virtually the same moment Romney was making early moves in South Carolina. A change itself is not that unusual, says David Woodard, but the timing is. “There are a lot of conversion stories,” Woodard says, “people who say, ‘I was pro-choice until my daughter got pregnant,’ or ‘I was pro-choice until a friend got pregnant,’ and then they had a lot of misgivings. That worked in the ‘80s, or the early ‘90s, but in 2004, after this issue has been aired for many years? It’s going to be harder.” 

In fact, what Romney’s “conversion” story tells us is that if he is telling the truth about the reasons for becoming pro-life he is basically not telling the truth about the influence of his faith on his “values” or he is simply admitting that his faith is not what informed his pro-life views and therefore his Mormonism becomes an even more significant problem for religious conservatives than it already was because he has effectively acknowledged his faith was not what brought him to the “same place” on these issues and because he has admitted that his faith was not what inspired the change (except in perhaps a very roundabout way).   

Furthermore, this “mildly pro-choice” nonsense that Mr. Burd has offered us has to be challenged.  Romney wasn’t just “mildly pro-choice” prior to his supposed conversion.  As Matt Yglesias has pointed out after citing this week’s Weekly Standard article on Romney’s pro-choice positions in 2002:

As you can see in the Medicaid answer, he wasn’t even a moderate on the issue — Romney was taking a strong, strong pro-choice stance.

This was a man who was adamantly “pro-choice” down the line and who has now become just as adamantly pro-life on just about everything.  Such a radical transformation did not happen, if it happened, because one Dr. Melton came in and talked to him about the fertilisation of ova and the extraction of stem cells.  It is therefore far more reasonable to conclude that the transformation never took place.