Mitt Romney’s relative died after an illegal abortion

Mitt Romney has taken flak for being a flip-flopper on abortion rights from both sides. Early in his career in Massachusetts, he believed that, despite his own personal opposition, abortion should be “safe and legal.” In a 1994 debate he explained his view by revealing that a close relative of his had died from an illegal abortion.

Transcript after the jump.

Yesterday, Salon reported that Romney’s relative was a 21-year-old named Ann Keenan. The sister of Romney’s brother-in-law, Keenan died in 1963 from an infection following what her death certificate described as a “septic criminal recent abortion.” Her parents directed that “Memorial tributes may be sent to the Planned Parenthood Association.” Although many of the details of Keenan’s death are unknown, the story offers a terrible reminder of the risks women were forced to take before Roe v. Wade.

It’s no wonder that being touched by that horror first-hand would make Romney “see that regardless of one’s beliefs about choice, that you would hope it would be safe and legal.” And yet–times have changed.

In 1994, Romney and his wife attended a Planned Parenthood fundraiser. When he ran for governor of Massachusetts in 2002 campaign, he promised to uphold the state’s abortion laws. But in 2005, with his eye on the 2008 GOP presidential nomination, he started calling himself “pro-life.” Today, Romney says that he “would cut funding to Planned Parenthood, that he opposed Roe, and that ‘abortion should be limited to only instances of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother.'”

He’s made the entirely-reasonable and utterly-depressing political assessment that, despite the fact that the majority of Americans still support the view expressed by Romney of 1994, anti-choice extremists now control the Republican party. And a GOP presidential hopeful has to pander to them–even if it means disavowing beliefs that were once “very dear” and forgetting the harsh lessons of history.

And even if many anti-choicers will probably never be satisfied.


Interviewer: If abortion is morally wrong, aren’t you responsible for discouraging it?

Romney: One of the great things about our nation is that we are each entitled to have strong personal beliefs, and we encourage other people to do the same. But as a nation, we recognize the right of all people to believe as they want and not to impose our beliefs on other people. I believe that abortion should be “safe and legal” in this country. I have since the time that my mom took that position when she ran in 1970 as a U.S. Senate candidate. I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years, we should sustain and support it. And I sustain and support that law and the right of a woman to make that choice. And my personal beliefs, like the personal beliefs of other people, should not be brought into a political campaign.

Kennedy: On the question of the choice issue, I have supported Roe v. Wade, I am pro-choice. My opponent is “multiple-choice.”

Romney: 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 or being multiple-choice.

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

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  • Sarah

    “And you will not see me wavering on this.”

    So sad.

  • nicolechat

    *deep breath*

    I think that the fact that Mitt Romney has turned his back on abortion rights is very sad. I think that the reasons he cited in 1994 are the absolute, ultimate, undeniable, putting-my-foot-down reasons why abortion should be legal: because if it is not, than women will die. And that is fucking terrible. End of story. Period. Abortion = very important legal right.

    However, I also think that people reserve the right to change their minds. People grow (and, sometimes, regress); they change, they adapt, they respond, they rethink. All the fucking time. I hold strong opinions now that are different from opinions I held five years ago, so I can only imagine how much I’ll change in the next seventeen.

    Am I defending Mitt Romney’s opinion? Fuck no, and his slut-shaming “only in cases of rape” bullshit. But I think it’s only fair to at least give him the benefit of the doubt that it’s his opinion. Or maybe not – maybe he is indeed pandering! Or maybe, in 1994, he was pandering back then, when the political climate was a little more choice-friendly. Or maybe he doesn’t give a fuck about abortion and he’s been pandering the whole time. But maybe he really believed that stuff back then, and he really believes this stuff now; the climate has changed. The pundits could have gotten to him and in his head. It happens.

    But I am growing weary of all these liberal blogs and news outlets always assuming that Republicans act out of callous underhanded electorate-pandering ways. (Or, for that matter, conservative blogs assuming that Democrats do the same thing.) The guy’s saying he doesn’t like abortion, so let’s take him at his word. Call him out on the 1994 quote if you want, and ask him what he thinks that relative should have done if you are really going for a hard debate. Ask him why he’s changed his mind – throw the tough questions at him. (And who knows? Maybe this relative was indeed raped, in which case, he wouldn’t have to backpedal too much. Maybe he’d tell you it was none of your fucking business, and he’d kind of have a point. Kind of.)

    But don’t call him a liar. You’re not doing your cause any favours by ignoring that people really hold these opinions, and addressing the reasons opinions can change with time is actually a kind of important part of the battle to tackle.

  • Neil

    I think it is quite possibly the case that Romney is being disingenuous here. It is like when Obama claimed his religious convictions led him to believe that marriage should be limited to heterosexuals.