GREENVILLE, S.C. -- As they quizzed four candidates on their positions on abortion, the moderators of a pro-life forum here gave each presidential hopeful an opportunity to take a jab at the one candidate who did not participate in the event: Mitt Romney.
One of the moderators at the event, sponsored by Personhood USA, told the crowd of at least 250 at the Greenville Hilton hotel that the Romney campaign said they had scheduling difficulties, but that a similar scheduling conflict arose during a similar event in Iowa.
Underscoring his absence, candidates were each asked to contrast their positions with those of Romney, or asked what they would handle certain situations differently than he did as Massachusetts governor.
"How would you differentiate your record and Gov. Romney's record on life?" one of the panelists at the forum, sponsored by Personhood USA, asked Rick Perry, the first of the candidates to speak.
"We don't have enough time," Perry said as the crowd laughed.
He said he took issue with Romney's switch from favoring abortion rights to being pro-life in his fifties, saying he would not have such a problem with it if his revelation had occurred earlier in life.
"In your fifties… it was clear to most of us that this was a choice for convenience. This was a decision that Gov. Romney made for political convenience, not an issue of his heart."
Newt Gingrich was asked to address Romney's signing of 198 same-sex marriage licenses, which Romney said he was compelled to do by the state supreme court.
"Can a state or federal executive challenge a constitutional ruling when they believe it is clearly erroneous?" one of the moderators asked.
Gingrich began his answer not by talking about the marriage licenses, but by criticizing both Romney's switch on abortion and his signing into law the Massachusetts health care plan, which includes an individual mandate to buy insurance.
"Gov. Romney also, after becoming pro-life, passed Romneycare with taxpayer funded abortions," Gingrich said.
Continuing his attack against the former governor's shifting positions, Gingrich said "his administration approved paying for an abortion clinic for Planned Parenthood with state funds and he appointed pro-abortion and pro-gay marriage judges to the court. So in terms of who's likely to change Washington I would say that his track record has not only not changed but is in the opposite direction."
Both Rick Santorum's and Ron Paul's questions on Romney dealt at directly with the Massachusetts health care law.
The moderators linked Santorum's ultimate question - whether he would "lead the charge against Obamacare" - with Romney by saying that the Massachusetts plan formed a model for the national program; a seemingly tangential preamble.
"I wouldn't be in this race if it wasn't for Obamacare," Santorum said. "Obamacare makes every single American dependent on the federal government for health, for life… You have my assurance that we will repeal Obamacare."
And Paul's question was preface with an explanation about the seat permanently held by Planned Parenthood on the Massachusetts plan's payment policy advisory board.
"Would you use your appointment power as president to assure that pro-life advocates are represented in the federal government?" he was asked.
Paul said he would "absolutely" appoint such advocates if they were pro-liberty and believe in non-violence, which he said were the qualifying factors for being pro-life. But, he said, such a distinction would be unnecessary because there would be no advisory board similar to that in Massachusetts.
"This wouldn't be a problem because they're not going to get any money, we shouldn't even have one," Paul said.