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Honor Thy Mother

December 31, 2011

Now just three days away, the Iowa caucus has entered its final, sentimental phase. With his presidential prospects rapidly vanishing, Newt Gingrich cried when asked about his mother. The increasingly likely GOP nominee Mitt Romney did not. But when it comes to the mother of all questions, the difference between the past and current frontrunner hardly end there. Because while Gingrich made his mother's bouts with mental illness and Alzheimer's Disease a personal cause, Romney abandoned his mother's pro-choice position he once championed as soon as his political future depended on it.
As was widely reported, the former House Speaker and soon-to-be former Republican presidential contender grew teary Friday as he remembered his mom:

"I identify my mother with being happy, loving life, having a sense of joy in her friends. But what she introduced me to, is later in her life she wound up in a mental-health facility. She had bipolar disease and depression and that introduced me to the whole issue of quality long-term care, which I did with [former Nebraska Sen.] Bob Kerrey for three years. And then that introduced me to Alzheimer's, which I did with him for three more years. And my whole emphasis of brain science comes indirectly from dealing with the real problems within my family. So it's not a theory. It's, in fact, my mother."

In New Hampshire Friday night, Romney held back the tears in his tribute to his parents Lenore and George:

"My mom and dad, who were extraordinary people, they both left this life and moved on. I won't cry. But I do, I do. Nothing to be ashamed of in that regard."

Nothing to be ashamed of at all. But using - and then casting aside - your mother and family as human shields on the abortion issue is something to be ashamed of indeed.

As conservative columnist Byron York revealed yesterday, in 1994 Mitt Romney decided to run as a pro-choice candidate in his Senate race against Ted Kennedy after polling showed "it would be impossible for a pro-life candidate to win statewide office in Massachusetts." But as Salon's Justin Elliott documented in "The Abortion That Mitt Doesn't Talk About Anymore," Romney claimed it was his own family story which informed his pro-choice position during his failed '94 Senate run. When Ted Kennedy during their debate labeled him "Multiple Choice Mitt," 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."

Of course, voters can be forgiven for not knowing about 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, the now pro-life Mitt Romney no longer wants you to know about her:

RUSSERT: You talked about your family relative who died from an illegal abortion, and yet President Romney is saying 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: Mm-hmm.

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 to protect the unborn and pregnant woman." The statement is ambiguous and Romney never accounted for the ambiguity.

With his dramatic U-turn on the issue in the run-up to the 2008 GOP presidential campaign, he hasn't talked much about his mother and reproductive rights since.
In his defense, Mitt Romney has spoken fondly of his parents during both of his presidential campaigns. But when it comes to abortion and his pledge that "you will not see me wavering" on the Romney family's commitment "that we can believe as we want, but we will not force our beliefs on others," Mitt Romney apparently decided not to honor thy mother.


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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