[NOTE: I posted this piece in May of this year—when very few people were talking about abortion—and I am reposting it because of its obvious relevance to what is happening in the presidential campaign today.]
“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.