Modern American politics is replete with what may be called “Asterisk Republicans.” These are conservatives who adhere to the GOP’s ideological orthodoxy* until such time as someone they care about is personally impacted by it. Dick Cheney’s support for same-sex unions, Fred Thompson’s stand for the right of families to make end of life decisions for their loved ones and Orrin Hatch’s conversion on stem cell research are just some of the examples the GOP’s “for me, not thee” approach.
That’s what makes Mitt Romney’s gymnastic reversal on the reproductive rights of American women so unique – and all the more shocking. After all, years before Romney’s statement last week that Roe v. Wade constituted “one of the darkest moments in Supreme Court history,” he told Massachusetts voters he would “sustain and support it.” As it turns it out, Romney no longer mentions the "dear, close family relative" whose death from an illegal abortion once inspired his formerly "unwavering" pro-choice position.
On January 22nd, Mitt Romney marked the anniversary of Roe v. Wade by issuing the following statement:
“Today marks the 39th anniversary of one of the darkest moments in Supreme Court history, when the court in Roe v. Wade claimed authority over the fundamental question regarding the rights of the unborn. The result is millions of lives since that day have been tragically silenced. Since that day, the pro-life movement has been working tirelessly in an effort to change hearts and minds and protect the weakest and most vulnerable among us. Today, we recommit ourselves to reversing that decision, for in the quiet of conscience, people of both political parties know that more than a million abortions a year cannot be squared with the good heart of America.”
But once upon a time, Mitt Romney’s good heart was concerned about the life and health of the mother, one of whom happened to be a member of his own extended family.
As Salon's Justin Elliott documented in "The Abortion That Mitt Doesn't Talk About Anymore," it was his own family story which informed his pro-choice position during his 1994 Senate run against Ted Kennedy. When Kennedy labeled him "Multiple Choice Mitt," during their debate, Romney responded with a tale of personal loss:
"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."
Reading Kathleen Parker's account, you wouldn't know of the existence of Ann Keenan, the sister of Romney's brother-in-law who died at the age of 21 in 1963 after a botched, illegal abortion. Of course, as this 2007 exchange with Tim Russert showed, Mitt Romney no longer wants you to know about her, either:
RUSSERT: You talked about your family relative who died from an illegal abortion, and yet President Romney is saying ban all abortion. And what would be the legal consequences to people who participated in that procedure? ... So back to your relative.
Romney went on to explain the consequences (loss of license and possible prison time for doctors, though not patients) of his new-found anti-abortion views. But he never did get back to his relative.
As it turns out, Mitt Romney also threw his mother under the right-wing's anti-abortion bus.
When Governor Romney was challenged in 2005 about his mother Lenore's supposedly pro-choice views, he went so far as to re-release her statement from her own 1970 Michigan Senate run. But as the Globe's Joan Vennochi pointed out four years ago:
In response to the column, Romney produced a statement of his mother's position at the time: "I support and recognize the need for more liberal abortion rights while affirming the legal and medical measures need[ed] to protect the unborn and pregnant woman." The statement is ambiguous and Romney never accounted for the ambiguity.
Since then, he hasn’t said much about his mother. And about Ann Keenan, almost nothing at all. For the reverse Asterisk Republican Mitt Romney, the personal is no longer personal.