Why’d it take so long to see the light? Seemed so wrong, but now it seems so right.”

—The Four Seasons, December 1963 

s a presidential candidate, he has changed his mind on an important social issue, one that continues to divide America. And those who fervently hold the view he now holds see him as their champion, despite his past feelings on the issue.  Those newly energized and enthusiastic believers are donating a lot of money to his campaign, expressing an eagerness to work to get him elected, and generally feel good about how his change of heart has helped their cause.

But I’m not talking about Barack Obama and the same-sex marriage issue.

In the late 1950s, Ann Keenan’s older brother married Mitt Romney’s older sister, making her a part of the Romney family.  A few years later, in 1963, Ann Keenan died a victim. Her death certificate explained:

Subarachnoid hemorrhage following septic criminal recent abortion with septic thromboembolism pneumonia and hepatitis with focal necrosis of liver

Criminal recent abortion.”  Keenan had died of an infection following a then-illegal abortion, the infection possibly caused by unsanitary instruments often used in such abortions. Whether she was actually victimized by a careless abortionist or whether she, as Salon put it, “tried to self-induce,” she most certainly was a victim of an as-yet-to-evolve society—Roe v. Wade was still a decade away.

The cause of Ann Keenan’s death was not known even by her friends, due, it is suspected, to the fact that George Romney had become governor of Michigan just a year earlier. In the Detroit News appeared a short notice of her death, described only as “suddenly,” but with this line:

Memorial tributes may be sent to the Planned Parenthood Association.

As Salon pointed out,

Planned Parenthood was at that time an organization focused exclusively on birth control and family planning; abortions, of course, were not yet legal. But the group had sponsored a conference several years earlier supporting liberalization of abortion laws.

Apparently, the Keenan family believed it was important, by their suggestion to pay tribute to their daughter by giving to Planned Parenthood, to show that their daughter’s death could at least call attention to an organization whose position on legal abortions could have saved her life.

It is doubtful that any of us would have ever heard of Ann Keenan if it weren’t for Mitt Romney, who was 16 when she died.   Seeking to win Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat, Romney said the following during a 1994 debate, in response to Kennedy—prophetically, it turns out—calling him “multiple choice” on abortion rights:

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.

When Etch-A-Romney says we won’t see him wavering, we can count on a waver coming.  But keep in mind that he said the woman “who passed away from an illegal abortion” was a “close family relative that was very close to me.”

Salon supplied some additional details:

After the debate, the Romney campaign wouldn’t identify the woman Romney had referred to, saying only that she was the sister of Romney’s brother-in-law, and that she had been engaged when she became pregnant. The candidate himself said, “I hadn’t thought much about” abortion until the relative’s death, but that it “obviously makes one see that regardless of one’s beliefs about choice, that you would hope it would be safe and legal.”

That last phrase, “safe and legal,” is where the unwavering Mr. Etch not only wavered, he outright devolved. From his campaign website:

Mitt Romney is pro-life… Mitt believes that life begins at conception and wishes that the laws of our nation reflected that view. But while the nation remains so divided, he believes that the right next step is for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade – a case of blatant judicial activism that took a decision that should be left to the people and placed it in the hands of unelected judges. With Roe overturned, states will be empowered through the democratic process to determine their own abortion laws and not have them dictated by judicial mandate.

In other words, Mitt Romney would have us return to 1963, when his “close family relative” who was “very close” to him, Ann Keenan, fell victim to the anti-choice mentality that dominated the political and legal landscape at the time. That, my friends, is the mother of all wavers, and someone, somewhere, should specifically ask him about it.

And as if Romney hadn’t done enough damage to the memory of the Keenans, who so long ago urged friends and family to give to Planned Parenthood in memory of their daughter, Romney said in March:

Planned Parenthood, we’re going to get rid of that.

Someone should ask him about that, too.

So, there you have it. A man who said in 1994 that Ann Keenan’s unnecessary death made him “see that regardless of one’s beliefs about choice, that you would hope it would be safe and legal,” and who insisted, I do not impose my beliefs on other people,” now says that we should return to the days before Roe v. Wade; that he would as president defund Planned Parenthood.

And to make it as worse as can be, Romney was asked in 2007 if he supported the 2004 Republican platform, which stated:

We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and we endorse legislation to make it clear that the 14th Amendment’s protections apply to unborn children.

Such a position, should it become law, could criminalize many forms of birth control and in vitro fertilization. And His Etchiness was all for it:

I do support the Republican platform and I support that being part of the Republican platform and I’m pro-life.

This Mitt Romney guy, whoever he was, is, or will become, is, as I have said before, one strange and creepy cat.



  1. A fascinating story, this, which ought to illustrate that life is a matter of cause and effect, and dare I say it, free will?

    Conservative thinking has it that conception is a matter of God’s will, as if He somehow directed the right sperm to the right egg at just the right time so as to start the clock on a brand-new person, a tabula rasa who perhaps had been waiting there in heaven for their launch. Those of more rational thinking, however, see events like the death of Ann Keenan as evidence that humanity is in fact responsible for what happens in a multitude of ways. The butterfly effect governs, but the choices are ours for better or worse. God does not intervene, whether He be there or not. To embrace the idea that He does intervene, absent evidence, is irrational. But to waver on the notion seems also disingenuous.

    Perhaps germane to the issue is this quote, which was brought to my attention by my friend Herb Van Fleet:

    “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?” – Epicurus circa 300 BCE


    • Jim,

      Herb’s Epicurus quote is the standard statement on the problem of evil, which I studied a lot when I was a Christian making my way through theology. The technical term for apologetic attempts to avoid Epicurus’ air-tight formulation is called “theodicy.” As you might imagine, there is a lot of creativity going on to explain away the evidence that, due to the existence of gratuitous suffering (evil), it is not logical that a Supreme Being exists who, if he possessed all the attributes that Christian theologians and believers ascribe to him, would not permit the unnecessary suffering.

      Of course, one can simply say that all of the suffering is necessary and not gratuitous–including, say, the rape of a nine-year-old girl–if only we could see and understand things from God’s perspective. Of course that is utter bullshit. I always had a problem, as a believer, explaining one simple fact: If God’s morality is a model for ours–and if it isn’t then we don’t have the slightest idea what kind of being he might be–then it is past absurd to say that he has the moral permission to allow the rape of a third grader that he could most certainly stop.

      I used to argue with people, after I left the evangelical faith, that if any one of us human beings could but refused to stop a heinous crime like a rape of a little girl, we would not be entitled to be called a “good” or “moral” person. But many Christians believe God is in some kind of special category where normal moral judgments don’t apply to him. If he can but refuses to stop that rape, it must be for some “greater good.” I can’t tell you how many times I have presented this argument to conservative Christians and their response is a variation of, “God’s ways are not our ways.”

      St. Augustine’s rather orthodox theodicy essentially was that there is no such thing as evil, only good corrupted. And the corruption takes place because we have free will. His theodicy is the one I accepted as a Christian (I learned it initially from C.S. Lewis). You can see that if the idea of free will falls, then so does his theodicy. Well, as you know, I have been thinking about the free will issue intensely lately, and have written a lengthy piece on it, and am still in the process of whittling it down to blog size. But I admit I am uncomfortable with my conclusion and I’m still not totally convinced I ought to publish it.



      • Duane,

        You know I greatly respect you as a clear thinker and writer and I’ve been looking forward to your thoughts on free will, something that has long interested me. If you will, consider addressing these thoughts in your post:

        1. Consider, the basis of particle physics and the reality of matter appears to be statistical in nature, i.e., it is randomness and the chaos theory applies.

        2. Consider the “butterfly effect”. What if free will actually doesn’t exist, but is simply the consequence of the continuous interaction among a finite but enormous number of variables all over the world and throughout the universe every microsecond. If that is the case, and I personally believe it is, then perhaps we don’t have free will, but what we do have is nevertheless so complex and chaotic (random) that it is indistinguishable from the real thing.


        • I agree with the view expressed in #2


        • Jim,

          Let me start by apologizing for the length of this response.

          As you know, the issue of free will can get very complicated and I am not qualified to write about it in any technical sense. Oh, I could use all the words associated with it, like compatibilism and incompatibilism, I could rehearse all the various theories, but to tell you the truth they are not what interests me about it.  In the end, what people want to know is are we genuinely making choices such that we can be held to be morally responsible for them? Let me change that. That’s what I want to know. (And that is why I find your #2 above quite interesting, but it ultimately sidesteps the question I want answered.)

          But I do love the aspect of QM that allows us to speculate about the philosophical (some would, mistakenly I believe, say “spiritual”) implications of, say, the matter myth, the measurement problem and the collapse of the wave function, and other weird quantum realm phenomena.

          Since I first heard about QM, like most people its spookiness fascinated me, and since I was a Christian at the time it seemed to me to leave the door open for some kind of scientific support for my faith, and then later just general spirituality. I once considered God as some kind of Jazz composer who laid out the music but allowed us (expected us) to improvise within the general confinements of the arrangement. That ability to improvise I considered our free will.

          I read a lot of stuff on the mystical implications of QM, including The Tao of Physics (subtitled: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism). I once excitedly drove to KC to see the movie What The Bleep Do We Know, which I thought would be a genuine scientific exploration of QM and consciousness. It turned out that the basis of that movie is a strained interpretation of QM that most physicists reject as pseudoscience.  I also learned later that Fritjof Capra’s book was not only a misleading presentation of the implications of QM, it also presented outdated physics.

          In any case, suffice it to say that I was frustrated in my attempt to find any support for my once deeply held metaphysical convictions. It appears—as unsatisfying as it may be to some folks—that the best we can say at this time about consciousness is that it is an amazing and wonderful emergent property of the physical brain and perhaps nothing more. Apparently, it emerges as the result of some relatively simple rules governing what goes on in our heads. But there appears to be no convincing evidence of how the physical and mental interact, i.e., which comes first, the neuron firing or the thought?

          Your reference to chaos theory made me think of something related to free will: suppose I was sitting here at my keyboard and a book falls from the shelf on to the floor and startles me. The book falling (a random event, maybe?) causes some kind of change in my brain chemistry—perhaps I am now agitated at being interrupted, say—which in turn—the butterfly effect—may lead me to next week say, “to heck with all this stuff, I’m just going to post a video from YouTube and be done with it.”

          There is no way, of course, to prove it either way (at least at this point in our scientific understanding). But it does seem to me that chaos theory should apply to brain neurochemistry, and some small change in the physical condition of my brain today would have some effect tomorrow. All of which makes me (!) tend to think that Harris is right in his assertion about the illusion of free will:

          What I will do next, and why, remains, at bottom, a mystery—one that is fully determined by the prior state of the universe and the laws of nature (including the contributions of chance).

          Finally, I started out (as a Christian) with the idea that we have free will (how else could God hold us accountable), then I moved into a position of free-will agnosticism (thanks to Martin Gardner), then I began to edge back to us having free will (thanks to the philosopher Dan Dennett’s book, Freedom Evolves) and now I have moved to a position (somewhat tentatively) of free will being an illusion (thanks to Sam Harris, whose short book I referenced on the subject seems to be a philosophical response to Dennett).

          Having said all that, my purpose in writing a blog post about Sam Harris’ take on free will is that I have thought a lot about Rowan Ford and her killer(s) and that horrific crime she endured. It so happened that Harris connected the criminal mind to his argument about free will and I began to suspect that Harris was right: our desires, our “will” to act, comes from things that are (most people will at least concede mostly) out of our control.

          And it seems to me that to possibly prevent future (way off into the future, admittedly) crimes like what happened to that little girl, it behooves us to figure out what we can do to produce social conditions such that the Chris Collings of the world will have much different initial conditions and thus much different life stories.


          PS: As I finish this, I realize how I am doomed to fail in writing a short piece on free will.


          • Well, heck Duane, I think you just wrote it. I don’t think any of us internet voyeurs out here really expected you to solve the problem, but I for one admire your effort. You have tried to do so much harder than I ever did and what that says about you speaks well for the eusocial side of the human condition. I believe E. O. Wilson is right, that it has the potential to prevail over the selfish individual side as evolution proceeds. Maybe the Buddhists are right – its all about yin and yang, not about the finish line but about the race itself.

            Anyway, thanks for the effort.


  2. ansonburlingame

     /  May 15, 2012

    To both,

    Free will or how humans behave is one matter. How the universe behaves, at the cosmicly grand level, galaxices, black holes, and the infintesimally small level, quantum level, are two very different things..

    In certain circumstance F= MA, on earth and on the “moon”. Large gravitational fields actually bend light. And a “quantum man” can walk thru a “quantum wall”, statistically.

    Yet 600 or so years ago humans thought the earth was flat and everything circled around the earth. Care to predict how we will further understand the “universe”, physically, 600 years from now?

    The earth and the moon are by and large simply”rocks”. They react just like rocks anywhere, IAW physical forces exerted upon them. For example if man decided to “blow up the moon” we would be left with an earth with no ocean tides.

    But why in the world would humans decide to “blow up the moon”, shatter it with nuclear weapons so they flew into space to join perhaps the asteroid belt?

    “Rocks” only exist and function in a physical world, call it a one dimensional world.. Humans exist and function in at least three and in in view, four dimensions.

    Push a human out of an airplane and the physical world completely dominates and that human crashes to the earth and is obliterated, just like a rock.

    But humans have the ability to think, the mental dimension, and can decide to not go aboard the airplane in the first place.

    Or they have the ability to function predominately by emotions, and be angry enough to push someone out of an airplane.

    Every minute of every day since humans first walked the earth, those particular creatures have been actting physically, mentally and emotionally. We all struggle with each of those dimensional forces, for sure. The guy raping a nine year old girl acted strictly IAW with those three forces.

    Well humans long ago recognized the result of acting IAW only those forces or within those three dimensions. Thus the spiritual dimension came into play, looking for a way to mitigate the consequences of simply letting physical, mental and emotional forces dominate, sometimes in various destructive combinations.

    Mankind tried to come up with some “rules” to control the prexisiting three dimensions. And when “men” ( Popes or witchdoctors) were challenged to how the “rules were made” well guess what? They said it came for the gods and later God.

    The apt term for such “exploration” is now called metaphysics, I suppose. Why do humans do what humans do, sometimes “right” and sometimes “wrong” at least IAW with some fairly common universal “rules”. The Ten Commandants codified such “rules” and look where they came from IAW Christian beliefs.

    Now go back in your individual lives and consider how many times you have ever violated even ONE of the TEN commandments. In my case I have walked all over every one of them, often in my life.

    Why did I violate such fundamental “laws”? Because I had free will and decided to do so, simple as that. Call it self interest if you will. God did not MAKE me do anything, good or bad, at least in my view. It was a matter of choice.

    Could God step in a prevent the rape of a nine year old. No way, in my view any more than God could make the moon fly off and circle a differnt planet, leaving us without ocear tides.

    BUT, if the man raping the nine year old girl had some concept of and belief in God and the “laws” provided by God, thru men, then MAYBE the nine year old girl would not have been raped, at least by that one man.

    So as you consider the “mind of God”. I would suggest that you focus only on the human behavior side of such ponderings. Science is doing well enough on its own to describe our universe, the physical one and we don’t need to burden ourselves with God in that matter.

    Just accept John 1:1, move directly to the “big bang” and let science take the physical world from there, to now, to the future, physically.

    But when you consider the “mind of God” and how it affects the “minds of men” then realize you are into the metaphysical world where your guess is as good as mine, at least for today.



  1. 1963 « The Erstwhile Conservative: A Blog of Repentance
%d bloggers like this: