(Reprinted with permission from Catholic Culture)

If you were already so certain that Mitt Romney is a great champion of the pro-life cause, why are you exulting over a single sentence in his speech?

“As president, I will protect the sanctity of life.” That was it. One sentence—9 words—in the course of a 38-minute speech. Not a developed thought but a throwaway line. Not a concrete promise, not a plan of action or proposed legislation, but a stock phrase.

Is that really all it takes to make pro-lifers happy? Are we really so desperate that when a presidential candidate makes a polite nod in our direction, we swoon—like the smitten high-school sophomore who is so excited that the star quarterback smiled at her, and doesn’t notice that he already has a steady girl?

Look: Romney’s pro-life credentials are shaky. His campaign now says that his latest gaffe—a virtual acceptance of the Roe decision—was a misstatement of his real beliefs. But it’s the sort of misstatement that could only be made by someone who has not devoted enough attention to the issue to recognize the pitfalls in the language.

There are reasons for pro-lifers to choose Romney in this year’s election. He is not a hardcore ideologue, not a sworn proponent of legal, accessible, taxpayer-funded abortion on demand. He is not Barack Obama. That might be reason enough to vote for him.

But it’s no reason to ignore his shortcomings. It’s no reason to pretend, when he tosses you a bone, that he’s treated you to a steak dinner. On the contrary, it’s reason to ask him to heighten the contradictions between himself and Obama, to take a stronger stand.

Romney promises to protect the sanctity of life. Good. What does that mean to him? What does he plan to do about it? Those are the questions that pro-lifers should be asking on the day after the convention. He gave us a polite nod, and we should respond with polite applause—not with rapturous joy. He said he would do something and we should ask for specifics, demanding more, rather than wasting our time trying to convince each other that he is the answer to all our prayers.

In politics as in the repair shop, the squeaky wheel gets oiled. If pro-lifers are satisfied with a throwaway line in a candidate’s speech, that’s all we’re ever likely to get.