THE SUMMER of 1983 was blistering hot in New England. A record heat wave saw temperatures soar toward the 100-degree mark from June well into September. July had been the hottest month ever recorded at Boston’s Logan Airport.
The region’s beloved Boston Red Sox, full of hope and promise early in spring and claiming first place in the American League East as late as June 1, apparently melted in the heat, losing game after game and tumbling to last place by mid-July, where they were to remain the rest of the season.
It was also during the sweltering summer of 1983 that the family of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney made its celebrated escape from the oppressive New England heat for the cooler climes of Beach O’Pines, Ontario, where the Romney family owns a beachfront cottage in a gated community on the shores of Lake Huron. Prior to departure, Mitt Romney placed the family dog—an Irish setter named Seamus—into a dog carrier and lashed it to the roof of the family’s Chevy station wagon for the 12-hour drive into Canada.
The infamous dog ride (dubbed the “Seamus incident”) was to become a full-blown issue in the 2012 presidential primaries, as Romney’s chief Republican opponent, Rick Santorum, invoked the incident to attack Romney’s “character.”
Political cartoonists and late-night comedians had a field day with the story. The incident inspired a New Yorker cover, while the punk band Devo recorded a song entitled, “Don’t Roof Rack Me, Bro.” ABC’s Diane Sawyer, in an interview with Romney during the primaries, dubbed it the “most wounding thing in the campaign so far.”
A far more ominous tale in the Romney canon also took place that summer, one that has been largely swept under the rug as the former governor of Massachusetts challenges incumbent Barack Obama for the presidency. There have been no songs written about it, no cartoons, no gags on late-night television, no magazine covers.
It was in August of that year, shortly after the Romney family returned from their vacation to Lake Huron, that a pregnant woman in her late 30s—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 8-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 at that time, 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 her Williams supporting the potentially life-saving procedure that she experienced an uninvited visit in her hospital 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.'”