Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Why Mitt Romney believed it was wrong to force anti-abortion beliefs on others

Mitt Romney and his young relative Ann Keenan in her high school yearbook picture.

Aug 8, 2011
The abortion that Mitt doesn't talk about anymore
His young relative died tragically in an illegal abortion in 1963: Her untold story -- and what it means for Romney
By Justin Elliott

In a 1994 Senate debate with Ted Kennedy, Mitt Romney revealed a startling chapter from his past: A close relative had died many years earlier in a botched illegal abortion, shaping Romney's stance in favor of safe and legal access to abortion for all women. But in the many years since that revelation, even as Romney flipped his position and became an ardent opponent of legal abortion, the details of his young relative's story, including even her name, have never been reported.

The relative he was referring to back in '94, Salon has learned, was a Detroit woman named Ann Keenan. She was the sister of Romney's brother-in-law and died at the age of 21 in 1963, a full decade before Roe v. Wade. While much of what happened remains murky, an investigation by Salon has uncovered never-reported details about her life and death, including: how she died (an infection); that her grief-stricken parents asked for memorial donations to be made to Planned Parenthood; and that the family apparently wanted to keep the death quiet because Romney's politically ambitious father, George, was then governor of Michigan.

With access to abortion increasingly restricted in many states and the possibility that a Republican victory in 2012 -- potentially by Romney -- will tilt the balance of the Supreme Court against Roe v. Wade, Romney's account of how a back-alley abortion touched his own family is more relevant than ever. The episode is a window into an era when obtaining an abortion meant the real risk of serious injury or death. It also represents a key part of Romney's political journey on the issue of abortion, which has more than any other tarred him as a flip-flopper.

The outlines of the story first became public when Romney -- unprompted -- brought it up in that 1994 debate with Kennedy, whom he was trying to unseat. At the time, Romney, who was making his first bid for office, was struggling to prove his pro-choice bona fides to liberal Massachusetts voters. In the debate, he insisted that he separated his personal beliefs -- opposition to abortion -- from his policy position that abortion "should be safe and legal in this country." Accused by Kennedy of being "multiple-choice," Romney angrily fired back:

"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...

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