GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum discussed his evolution Friday from initially not having a strong stance on abortion to becoming one of the biggest abortion opponents in national politics.

Santorum, a former Pennsylvania U.S. senator, was the keynote speaker at the Celebrate Life Banquet and Gala at the Baton Rouge Marriott along with guests U.S. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., and U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge.

“When I first got into politics, I wasn’t even sure I was pro-life,” Santorum said, noting that his future father-in-law, a pediatrician, convinced him scientifically.

“It became very, very clear to me that, from the moment of conception, it was a human life,” said Santorum, who now has seven children.

He then went on to become a 36-year-old U.S. senator in 1995. During that year, he said, his “faith” went from being a “part of his life” to the “center of my life.”

After that transition occurred, he said that for years his children thought his first name was “Ultra” because he was always described as the “ultra-conservative” senator.

Santorum said he went from knowing nothing about late-term abortions to eventually sponsoring the “Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act” of 2003 that prohibited the form of late-term abortion, officially called intact dilation and extraction.

That success came after years of futilely losing the battle to political opponents like then President Bill Clinton and U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.

“To me, Barbara Boxer is sort of like a dog whistle to a dog,” Santorum joked.

But minutes later, Santorum was fighting back tears as he discussed the death in 1996 of his son Gabriel Michael, who died from complications two hours after his birth.

A birth defect was detected during the pregnancy and Santorum’s wife, Karen, had experimental surgery. The surgery was a seeming success until she developed a fever and infection and went into labor early, he said.

“Not a bad life to know only love,” he said with tears in his eyes.

Karen Santorum ended up authoring “Letters to Gabriel” in 1998 that Santorum said has inspired countless families to continue their pregnancies after defects or other problems are discovered.

Vitter praised Santorum for being one of the most active “pro-life” politicians.

In introducing Santorum, Vitter described him as “someone who really embodies the spirit of life and of Christ.”

The gala was meant to raise funds for the anti-abortion Caring to Love Ministries to buy a new, $30,000 ultrasound machine.

Caring to Love Ministries President and CEO Dorothy Wallis said the ultrasound machine will be used at times in a mobile unit that is parked across the street from clinics where abortions are performed to offer free services and counseling to pregnant women.

Wallis specifically cited locating outside of the Delta Clinic of Baton Rouge.