Say what you will about the ultra-hardline reproductive politics of Todd Akin and Paul Ryan, but at least those two have always been true believers. Mitt Romney, not so much. As his former strategist Michael Murphy put it in 2005, "He's been a pro-life Mormon faking it as a pro-choice friendly." But Romney's public transformation from an "unwavering" supporter of Roe v. Wade into a strong backer of the GOP's all-out assault on women's reproductive rights isn't just rank opportunism. To accomplish that extremist makeover, Mitt Romney had to turn his back on a "dear, close family relative" who died 50 years ago of a then-illegal abortion.
As Salon's Justin Elliott documented last year in "The Abortion That Mitt Doesn't Talk About Anymore," it was his own family story which informed his pro-choice position during his 1994 Senate run against Ted Kennedy. When Kennedy labeled him "Multiple Choice Mitt," during their debate, Romney responded with a tale of personal loss:
"On the idea of 'multiple-choice,' I have to respond. I have my own beliefs, and those beliefs are very dear to me. One of them is that I do not impose my beliefs on other people. Many, many years ago, I had a dear, close family relative that was very close to me who passed away from an illegal abortion. It is since that time that my mother and my family have been committed to the belief that we can believe as we want, but we will not force our beliefs on others on that matter. And you will not see me wavering on that."To further establish his pro-choice bona fides, Mitt put his wife's money where his mouth was. During the '94 campaign, he and Ann attended a Planned Parenthood event, where she wrote a check for $150 to the organization. (Later seeking the GOP presidential nomination, Gov. Romney claimed he had "no recollection" of the gathering. As far as Ann's contribution was concerned, Mitt explained that "her positions are not terribly relevant for my campaign.")
Ann Romney, who Mitt now boasts "reports to me regularly" on what American women care about, will be headlining next week's Republican National Convention in Tampa, during his 2002 race for governor of Massachusetts had a different role. Back then, Romney enlisted her to reassure the pro-choice Bay State voters that he was on their side:
ANN ROMNEY: I think women also recognize that they want someone who is going to manage the state well. I think they may be more nervous about him on social issues. They shouldn't be, because he's going to be just fine. But the perception is that he won't be. That's an incorrect perception.But when Mitt Romney started running for the 2008 Republican presidential nomination, he not had to execute a 180 degree turn for the GOP's conservative primary voters. As this 2007 exchange with the late Tim Russert, he had to convince his party's evangelical base that what happens in Boston stays in Boston. And that included desecrating the memory of Ann Keenan, the sister of Romney's brother-in-law who died at the age of 21 in 1963 after a botched, illegal abortion.
MITT ROMNEY: So when asked will I preserve and protect a woman's right to choose, I make an unequivocal answer: yes.
RUSSERT: You talked about your family relative who died from an illegal abortion, and yet President Romney is saying is saying ban all abortion. And what would be the legal consequences to people who participated in that procedure?... So back to your relative.Romney went on to explain the consequences (loss of license and possible prison time for doctors, though not patients) of his new found anti-abortion views. But he never did get back to his relative. And as he accidentally revealed to Russert, in retrospect her death was merely "theoretical".
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RUSSERT: You--will not see you wavering on that issue. You now have said you support the 2004 Republican Party platform, which says this: "We say the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to life which cannot be infringed. We" suggest "a human life amendment to the Constitution." Such amendment would ban abortions all across the country. Why such a dramatic and profound change after pledging never to waiver on a woman's right to choose?And Ann Keenan became history. As the New York Times later recounted Mitt's metamorphosis, "In 2005, Governor Romney shocked constituents by writing an opinion article in The Boston Globe that declared: 'I am pro-life.'" In 2007, Romney admitted to George Stephanopoulos that after having been "effectively pro-choice," just a few years after becoming "I changed my position." Now, Romney wants to eliminate Title X funding and "end" Planned Parenthood, to whom he pledged in 2002 to support Roe v. Wade, Medicaid abortion services and access to emergency contraception. Not secure that his turn-about would satisfy the 63 percent of Republicans who would ban abortion in all cases, Romney added his backing for state "personhood" amendments and so-called "fetal pain" legislation.
ROMNEY: Well, you know, Tim, I was always personally opposed to abortion, as I think almost everyone in this nation is. And the question for me was, what is the role of government? And it was quite theoretical and, and philosophical to consider what the role of government should be in this regard, and I felt that the Supreme Court had spoken and that government shouldn't be involved and let people make their own decision. And that all made a lot of sense to me.
And then I became governor and the theoretical became reality, if you will.
Of course, Republican politics is replete with politicians who broke with GOP orthodoxy when a loved one was hurt by it. These "asterisk Republicans" include Dick Cheney, who supported marriage equality for his family members, and Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch, who came to advocate for stem cell research after he was touched by one young boy's tragic story.
That's what makes Mitt Romney's abortion about-face all the more stunning and a disturbing window into the character of the man who may yet become the 45th president of the United States. For him, the political trumps the personal. To put it another way, on his road to the White House, Mitt Romney threw his "dear, close family relative" under the bus.