Mitt Romney's Heartless Advice to a Woman Whose Pregnancy Might Have Killed Her
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"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. He didn't seem to care a lick about her personal well-being.
"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."
In essence, Romney strapped Sheldon's destiny to the hood of his Chevy and put his foot on the gas pedal, both literally and figuratively. He 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. Last year, Scott, who is also a Mormon, interviewed Sheldon's 90-year-old father, Phil Hilton, who remembered the incident quite vividly.
"I have never been so upset about anything in my life," he told Scott. "[Romney] is an authoritative type fellow who thinks he is in charge of the world."
Hilton was so offended by Romney's single-mindedness and absolute lack of sensitivity to his daughter's health that he ordered the young bishop out of his home. Hilton told Scott that he was fully prepared to "throw [Romney] off the porch if he paused for even a second." Romney kept moving.
Back at the hospital, a distraught Carrel Hilton Sheldon assented to her doctor's advice and terminated her life-threatening pregnancy. She recovered from her medical crisis, moved to the West Coast, and continued to raise her four children.
And because of her ward bishop, Mitt Romney, Sheldon eventually left the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, never to return. "Here I—a baptized, endowed, dedicated worker, and tithe-payer in the church—lay helpless, hurt, and frightened, trying to maintain my psychological equilibrium," Sheldon wrote, "and his concern was for the eight-week possibility in my uterus—not for me!"
When he was confronted about the incident by reporters from the Boston Globe in 1994—little more than a decade afterward—Romney claimed no memory of the incident.
""I don't have any memory of what she is referring to," Romney would later declare, "although I certainly can't say it could not have been me." It became the patterned Romney response to other conflicted moments in his life (the bullying of a classmate in prep school was a similar incident). Mormon feminists came up with a term for Romney's calculated lack of memory: "Romnesia."