Mitt Romney is unbelievable. Literally. On Tuesday the GOP presidential candidate told the Des Moines Register's editorial board: "There's no legislation with regards to abortion that I'm familiar with that would become part of my agenda."
With four weeks left until the election, Romney unquestionably needs to win over undecided voters by camouflaging his anti-choice stance. But he's on record championing some of the most extreme -- and more importantly, extremely unpopular -- tactics aimed at blocking women's access to basic reproductive health care, including abortion and birth control.
Throughout his campaign for president, Romney has said again and again that he would end funding for family planning clinics like Planned Parenthood that provide abortion services as part of a broader range of women's health care.
His own party's platform states: "We support a human life amendment to the Constitution and endorse legislation to make clear that the Fourteenth Amendment's protections apply to unborn children." Plain English translation: they support criminalizing abortion.
In October 2011, Romney told Mike Huckabee on FOX News that when he was governor of Massachusetts he "absolutely" would have supported a state constitutional amendment establishing that life begins at conception. Like the measure defeated in Mississippi earlier this year, such "fetal personhood" laws not only criminalize abortion, but would also outlaw popular forms of contraception, fertility treatment and stem cell research. Romney added, "My view is that the Supreme Court should reverse Roe v. Wade," and promised that he would send justices to the high court who would be inclined to do just that -- take us back to the days when abortion was criminalized in much of the country.
But somehow we're supposed to believe that a President Romney wouldn't pose any threat to reproductive choice? With a candidate this dishonest, voters have to decide for themselves which version would preside over the nation. Right-wing supporters of Romney are standing by the socially conservative incarnation of their guy.
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the anti-abortion Susan B. Anthony List, told USA TODAY:
"We have full confidence that as president, Gov. Romney will stand by the pro-life commitments he laid out in National Review in June 2011," including his promise to "advocate for a bill to promote unborn children capable of feeling pain."
I'm inclined to agree with Dannenfelser. In that National Review piece, penned by Romney himself, the candidate said: "If I have the opportunity to serve as our nation's next president, I commit to doing everything in my power to cultivate, promote, and support a culture of life in America."
Interestingly, Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul sent to the conservative National Review a stronger backtrack of her boss's latest pronouncement than the one she delivered more widely. In an email to the National Review, Saul had this to say: "Governor Romney would of course support legislation aimed at providing greater protections for life."
It's not hard to figure out why, where women's reproductive health care is concerned, Romney flips here, flops there, gives the old Etch-A-Sketch a good shake, and slicks out a sound bite for each new audience du jour. The simple reason: Romney's policy agenda for women's health is deeply unpopular with all voters, and especially women voters.
So now it has dawned on Romney that his unpopular positions may hurt him with the voters who are still up for grabs. So what does he do? Lie. Shape his message not to reality but to the goal of winning debates, winning votes, winning at all costs.
Here's my newsflash for Governor Etch-A-Sketch: Women are not fooled by his shape-shifting public persona. The real Mitt Romney is revealed by what he says in private, when the cameras aren't rolling (or so he assumes). In these unmasked moments, Romney has revealed a more accurate version of himself. He is the guy who glibly wrote off 47 percent of the U.S. population as lazy, irresponsible moochers. He is the guy who used his position as lay bishop to bully women in his church about their pregnancies, their health and their families. That guy's the real Romney.
Romney Knows Best
The following stories reveal just how chilling the real Mitt Romney can be. Repeatedly, he has shown himself to be a man who thinks he knows best what women should do with their bodies and how (or even if) they should raise their children.
Before entering politics, Romney served in several positions of authority in the Mormon Church. Judith Dushku, a Mormon feminist who stood up to Romney numerous times when she was in his congregation, shared with the Boston Globe and other media outlets her impression that Mitt's fleeting pro-choice stance was a strategic move to win votes when he ran for the U.S. Senate. Dushku said Romney told her face-to-face: "Well, they told me in Salt Lake City I could take this position, and in fact I probably had to in order to win in a liberal state like Massachusetts."
Dushku also brought to light the story of her friend Carrel Hilton Sheldon, a Mormon woman who discovered she had a blood clot while pregnant. With her life potentially at risk, this mother of four children decided to have an abortion, and she even got permission from the proper authorities in the church. But Romney tried to talk her out of it, shaming her with comments like, "Well, why do you get off so easy when other women have their babies?" He told her that "as your bishop, my concern is with the child."
And it wasn't just one incident. According to The New York Times, Janna and Randy Sorensen approached Romney in the early 1990s seeking his help in adopting a child. The church did not facilitate adoptions for mothers who worked outside the home, and the couple told Romney they thought the rule was unfair. But Romney would not proceed with helping the couple until he had convinced Janna to quit her job.
Ten years earlier, Romney similarly tried to twist the arm of Peggie Hayes when he was bishop in his local ward. As reported in Vanity Fair, Romney urged the 23-year-old single mother, whom his family had known quite well for years, to give up her soon-to-be-born second child for adoption. When Hayes informed Romney of her intention to keep and raise the child, his response was to threaten her with excommunication from the church.
Bully, lie, manipulate, threaten. Mitt Romney believes these tactics will get him what he wants. But I believe in the good sense of women voters throughout the country. And for the next four weeks, I'll be working along with thousands of NOW chapter leaders and activists to get the word out: Mitt Romney's real agenda is dangerous for women. Come Nov. 6, we will defeat Governor Etch-A-Sketch and re-elect President Obama, who actually means it when he says he is pro-choice.