Nothing quite illustrates the ever-escalating grip of social-conservative advocacy groups on the GOP than the fact that Mitt Romney came under attack repeatedly last year for refusing (along with hyper-anti-choicer Herman Cain) a “Pledge” proferred by the Susan B. Anthony List, a militant anti-choice group. In turning down the Pledge, Romney said this on his campaign’s blog:

I am pro-life and believe that abortion should be limited to only instances of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.

I support the reversal of Roe v. Wade, because it is bad law and bad medicine. Roe was a misguided ruling that was a result of a small group of activist federal judges legislating from the bench.

I support the Hyde Amendment, which broadly bars the use of federal funds for abortions. And as president, I will support efforts to prohibit federal funding for any organization like Planned Parenthood, which primarily performs abortions or offers abortion-related services.

I will reinstate the Mexico City Policy to ensure that non-governmental organizations that receive funding from America refrain from performing or promoting abortion services, as a method of family planning, in other countries. This includes ending American funding for any United Nations or other foreign assistance program that promotes or performs abortions on women around the world.

I will advocate for and support a Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act to protect unborn children who are capable of feeling pain from abortion.

And perhaps most importantly, I will only appoint judges who adhere to the Constitution and the laws as they are written, not as they want them to be written.

As much as I share the goals of the Susan B. Anthony List, its well-meaning pledge is overly broad and would have unintended consequences. That is why I could not sign it. It is one thing to end federal funding for an organization like Planned Parenthood; it is entirely another to end all federal funding for thousands of hospitals across America. That is precisely what the pledge would demand and require of a president who signed it.

The pledge also unduly burdens a president’s ability to appoint the most qualified individuals to a broad array of key positions in the federal government. I would expect every one of my appointees to carry out my policies on abortion and every other issue, irrespective of their personal views.

At some point along the way (I can’t seem to find a primary source, but it’s certainly a widespread belief) Mitt also promised his running-mate would be an anti-choicer as well.

As Romney indicated, the SBAL pledge was breathtaking in that it committed its signatories to what amounted to a secondary boycott against any organization with a relationship with Planned Parenthood, and also demanded that a long list of federal executive appointees be vetted for their fidelity to the Cause.

But he got clobbered for refusing to sign it anyway. And now, we are supposed to believe he’s making some progress in “reaching out” to unhappy social conservatives because SBAL, along with the anti-choice warhorse the National Right to Life Committee, have endorsed him.

Well, why wouldn’t they?

You’ve got a guy who not only supports your basic position of wanting to recriminalize virtually all abortions, but will impose anti-choice views on his entire administration, including its foreign policy operatives, and directly defy Roe v. Wade by supporting “fetal pain” laws at every level. For dessert, he’s handing you a veto power over his choice of running-mates and of federal judges.

Romney hasn’t yet been endorsed by the Personhood Initiative folks, who want to outlaw not only all abortions but many methods of contraception. But they’ve served their purpose by ratcheting up the pressure on GOP pols another notch; after all, Santorum, Gingrich, Perry and Paul all signed a “personhood pledge” that was so radical that a ballot initiative to make it state policy was rejected by the voters of Mississippi.

That’s how litmus-test creep operates, with the added bonus that Romney can still pretend to selected audiences that he’s rejected the views of “extremists” on abortion. It’s all pretty impressive.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore is a political columnist for New York and managing editor at the Democratic Strategist website. He was a contributing writer at the Washington Monthly from January 2012 until November 2015, and was the principal contributor to the Political Animal blog.