Given that Mitt Romney appears to be the current front runner in the Republican nomination (why can’t it be Gingrich?! He wants us to have a moon base, people), I wanted to take a look at his ever-changing views on abortion. As soon as you type “Mitt Romney abortion” into Google, Google will suggest you add the words “flip flop” to the end of your search. Romney is so dedicated to the issue of reproductive rights that he has taken allied with both the pro-choice and anti-choice movements. In this present election cycle (I add this qualifier because I don’t want to discount the probability possibility that he will change his mind again), he has been focusing on the Republican anti-choice constituency, especially given just how extremely conservative his fellow presidential contenders.
In 1994, Romney ran against Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts’s senatorial elections. During a debate against Kennedy, who referred to Romney as “multiple choice”, Romney indignantly stated that because of past tragedy, he was pro-choice. He reiterated that he was unwilling to “force” his beliefs on to others, and emphatically stated, “you will not see me wavering on that.” (Something I’m sure no one believed). To support his claims that he was pro-choice, Romney alluded to the story of a young female relative who died of a botched illegal abortion. Remember, Massachusetts is a left-leaning state. No politician would have been elected running on a “pro-life” platform, and Romney wanted to be elected more than anything.
Given how strongly Romney once clung to the story of his family member who died of an abortion, how influential it was on his politics at one point, and how willingly he exploited it (and then forgot about it depending on the political tides), it is very important to examine. Her name was Anne Keenan, she was Romney’s brother-in-law’s sister and she had an illegal abortion in 1963, a full decade before abortion was legalized in Roe v. Wade. Her death was from an infection caused by the illegal abortion, which was one of the most common causes of death from back-alley abortions. In 1965, two years after Keenan’s death, 17 percent of maternal deaths in the U.S. were due to botched illegal abortion. However, much of the information surrounding her death was, up until this past year, secret because Romney’s father had been elected governor of Michigan only a year before. In the wake of her death, her parents requested that donations be made to Planned Parenthood (then fighting for liberalized contraceptive laws) in her behalf.
Keenan’s tragic story is clearly a compelling reason why anyone would be pro-choice. In 1994, Romney also attended a Planned Parenthood fundraiser, and his wife donated money ($150) to Planned Parenthood to cement their pro-choice position. During the time that Romney publicly supported abortion rights, Romney also filled out Planned Parenthood questionnaires, and in 2002 answered “YES” to the question “Do you support state funding of abortion services through Medicaid for low-income women?” (Image of the questionnaire is from buzzfeed.com).
Of course, because the only thing Mitt Romney actually cares about is being elected, he did waver and declared an anti-choice stance in 2005, more likely than anything because it is politically convenient. He supported Tea Party attacks on Planned Parenthood’s funding, which I think is especially ironic and a little sad because of their past donations to Planned Parenthood, and the desire of the Keenan family to send donations there in Anne’s name. He also matter-of-factly stated on Mike Huckabee’s Fox News show that he would “absolutely” support a Personhood Amendment to the U.S. constitution, although he has consistently rejected Personhood USA’s requests to be present at their functions (we’ll further in-depth with Personhood a little later). I find this flip-flopping on abortion to be a little more upsetting than his flip-flopping on other issues. He exploited a family tragedy when it worked for him, when being pro-choice worked for him, when it would get him elected, and as soon as he decided to run for president and it no longer squared with potential voters, Romney abandoned the pro-choice position and the story of Anne Keenan, a woman who may not have died at 21 had abortion been legal.
His flip-flopping on abortion has continued into recent presidential debacles, oops, I mean debates. When challenged by Gingrich on not being anti-choice enough, Romney proudly threw out the fact that Massachusetts Citizens for Life endorsed him in 2002. However, during that particular race, he denied any knowledge of their endorsement, and emphasized his supposedly pro-choice viewpoint.
On the same Huckabee show where he laid his allegiance with the Personhood movement, he also stated,
My view is that the Supreme Court should reverse Roe v. Wade and send back to the states the responsibility for deciding whether they’re going to have abortion legal in their state or not.
Romney may not realize this (knowing the history of the nation you want to be president of is hard), but the problems with having different laws regarding abortion was one of the reasons that the Supreme Court legalized abortion in the first place. Not to mention, if abortion is left to the states and plenty of states ban it, like they want to, low-income women are, to put it plainly, fucked. It’s expensive enough to travel in your own state to have an abortion, imagine having to travel to a completely different one. For women who need access to abortion, this would be a nightmare. Were Romney elected president, it follows that he would appoint Supreme Court justices that share the same conservative, anti-woman, anti-choice beliefs he does. If he truly does want Roe to be overturned (and it’s difficult to know what he actually wants), then he will ensure he appoints justices that would do so. If Romney were to be the nominee, with the potential to become the president of the U.S., the foundation for abortion rights would be in danger.
Which gets us back to Personhood and Romney’s troubling position on contraceptives. Say what you want about his flip-flopping (I love a good Romney flip-flop joke, clearly0, but at least he consistently takes opinions on all sides of every issue. For one, as governor, Mitt Romney vetoed a bill in 2005 that would have made emergency contraception available over the counter, and require hospitals to provide it for rape survivors (really nice, Mittens). In a debate earlier in January, however, he acted completely affronted by the notion that anyone would dare ban birth control, and vehemently stated “no one wants to do that.” But, here again, Mitt is wrong, because such a ban is one of the goals of the Personhood movement, which he threw his weight behind on Huckabee’s show. His whole “I’m-astounded-anyone-would-do-that” act was a clear attempt to avoid answering the question altogether. Romney, in a not-quite-Oscar worthy but maybe Golden Globes-worthy performance, also acted as if he did not know the Supreme Court case, Griswold v. Connecticut, which legalized contraceptives in all states in 1965. (Romney is a Harvard educated lawyer, so if he actually doesn’t know that, I give up on life).
In addition to his whole “no one wants to ban birth control” shtick, he also appears to have a fundamental lack of understanding about the way contraceptives work. Personhood (which, just to reiterate, is something Romney supports) would ban many types of hormonal birth control and all emergency contraceptives (because it grants personhood to, you know, a fertilized egg), as well as abortion. Inconsistency in political views is clearly not unusual for Romney, but it is unconscionable for a presidential candidate to not just not understand the policies they support.
It’s more probable that Romney dodged the question in the debate not out of ignorance, but because his answer about banning contraceptives might not please moderate and independent voters. Robert Bork is the co-chair of Romney’s legal advisory committee, and was prevented from becoming a Supreme Court justice in part because of his super extreme stance on Griswold v. Connecticut and the fact that he actually supports overturning it.
So that’s another potential issue with a Romney presidency – what sort of position would a person like Robert Bork have in his administration? Because I can promise, a guy like that having power in the Romney administration would not be a good thing. Would a Romney administration implement policy to defund Planned Parenthood? Would they attempt to codify Personhood? Furthermore, Romney has pledged to eliminate the Title X program which provides BC to millions of people, and supports that super invasive Bush-era rule that allows doctors to not prescribe birth control and allows pharmacists to refuse to fill it (sorry, I don’t care what your religious beliefs are, do your damn job).
I’m fairly convinced that Romney’s personal beliefs are pro-life. But I’m also convinced that he will say anything to get elected. And if it were politically convenient, I’m sure he would declare a pro-choice position once again. And if he were to do so, he would be utterly untrustworthy as a pro-choice ally. Romney’s views, as they currently stand, would have Roe overturned and birth control banned, which is reason enough to fear a Romney presidency.