In one of these incidents, he turned his back on a 23-year-old single mother, Peggie Hayes, who had been a Romney family friend and teenage babysitter, because she refused to obey his and the church’s preference that she give up a second, out-of-wedlock child for adoption. Even when Hayes’s baby underwent frightening head surgery nine months after birth, Mitt spurned her call to come to the hospital to confer a blessing on her child. A similar Romney episode originally surfaced in an anonymous first-person account published by a Mormon feminist journal, Exponent II, in 1990. A mother of four learned that she had a blood clot in her pelvis during a later, unexpected pregnancy, putting her own health and that of the fetus at risk. Romney visited the hospital where she “lay helpless, hurt, and frightened,” as she described it, only to tell her that “as your bishop, my concern is with the child.” The woman, who has recently identified herself as Carrel Hilton Sheldon, was enraged that he cared more about “the eight-week possibility” in her uterus than he did about her—and that he offered “judgment, criticism, prejudicial advice, and rejection” at a time when she needed support from spiritual leaders and friends. In an interview with Ronald Scott, the author of a Romney biography published last year, Sheldon tried to be generous when looking back. “Mitt has many, many winning qualities,” she said, “but at the time he was blind to me as a human being.”
All of which is to affirm that George Stephanopoulos was addressing his question to the right candidate when he brought up the banning of contraception at that January debate. Santorum has always been completely candid about his view of women and their status; Romney was the one who had to be smoked out. Romney didn’t take the bait, but even so, his record is clear, and, unlike the angry Santorum, he has the smooth style of a fifties retro patriarch to camouflage the reactionary content. In this sense, his war on women would differ from Rick’s—and Rush’s—only in the way prized by GOP spin artists like Noonan and Matalin. He would never be so politically foolhardy as to spell out on-camera just how broad and nasty its goals really are.