As Mitt Romney tries to redraw himself as a moderate in the final days of his Etch-A-Sketch candidacy, some troubling stories from his career as a Mormon leader outside of Boston can't be erased. In this excerpt from an investigative report for Metro Silicon Valley, award-winning journalist Geoffrey Dunn chronicles Romney's treatment of Mormon women while he served as a bishop and "stake president" in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Massachusetts.
10/11/2012 9:21 am
It was in the summer of 1983 that a pregnant woman in her late thirties--Carrel Hilton Sheldon--was informed by her doctor that she had a life-threatening blood clot lodged in her pelvic region. In treating the clot, Sheldon was administered an overdose of the blood thinner Heparin, an overdose that not only resulted in significant internal bleeding, but also extensive damage to her kidneys, to the point where she was on the verge of needing a transplant. Her life was clearly in peril.
Sheldon's doctor advised her that the overdose of Heparin might have also harmed her eight-week-old fetus and, given the possible fatal repercussions to her, he recommended that she abort her pregnancy.
Sheldon, a mother of four at the time (a fifth child had died as an infant), was then a practicing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), outside of Boston. The LDS leader in Massachusetts, called the "stake president," was a Harvard-trained physician, Dr. Gordon Williams, and he counseled Sheldon to follow her doctor's advice to terminate the pregnancy and protect her own life, so that she could continue caring for her four living children. "Of course you should have the abortion," she recalled him saying.
According to an account later written anonymously by Sheldon for the LDS women's journal, Exponent II, it was after receiving this counsel from Williams supporting the potentially life-saving procedure that she experienced an uninvited visit in her hospital room from her Mormon bishop at the time, 36-year-old Mitt Romney, who adamantly opposed the abortion.
"He regaled me with stories of his sister and her retarded child and what a blessing the child had been to the family," Sheldon wrote of the incident. "He told me that 'as your bishop, my concern is with the child.'"
Mormon congregations are called "wards" or "branches," depending on their size. There are no full-time "priests" or "ministers," as there are in most Protestant and Catholic churches, but rather lay "bishops," chosen to serve as the spiritual leaders of their wards. Larger amalgamations of LDS churches are called "stakes," and their leaders, also lay members of the church, are called "stake presidents," something akin, according to the official LDS website, to the position of a bishop in a Catholic diocese.
By the time of his visit to Sheldon's hospital room, Romney was a rising star in Mormon circles. In the early 1970s, while completing both his MBA and his law degree at Harvard, he served in his LDS ward as a bishop's assistant, a religious instructor for teens, and as a "church elder." In 1981, when he was only 34-years-old, he was named bishop of a ward just outside of Boston and was serving in that capacity when he confronted Sheldon about her pending abortion.
There was no empathy forthcoming from Romney, according to Sheldon, no warmth or sympathy. Moreover, Sheldon contends, Romney cast doubt on her story about the stake president's approval. He simply didn't believe her. He threatened to call him and track him down. "At a time when I would have appreciated nurturing and support from spiritual leaders and friends," Sheldon wrote, "I got judgment, criticism, prejudicial advice, and rejection."
Indeed, Romney was so agitated about the matter that he confronted Sheldon's parents about her decision as well. According to R. B. Scott, author of the insightful Mitt Romney: An Inside Look at the Man and His Politics, Romney's only concern was for the unborn fetus.