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Opinion

opinion | JOAN VENNOCHI

Romney’s real problem with women

Associated Press

MITT ROMNEY’S real battle for female support is proving that his word is good. Based on his Bay State record, it’s hard to trust him.

Massachusetts is where Romney first showed his appetite for running over any candidate who stands between him and political office. Here, it happened to be women.

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When Romney decided to run against Ted Kennedy in 1994, Republican Janet Jeghelian, a former talk radio host, was in the race. Once Romney jumped in, he and the state GOP kept her off the primary ballot.

Jeghelian wasn’t a strong candidate, but she was a prescient one. After she was forced out, she predicted he would waffle on abortion rights. It took awhile, but he did.

Seven years later, Romney muscled out acting Governor Jane Swift, who had his pledge that he would not challenge her for the nomination. But fresh from running the winter Olympics, Romney jumped in, and without so much as a courtesy phone call, pushed out the politically weak Swift.

Realizing the delicacy of kicking aside the Bay State’s first female chief executive, Romney recruited another woman, Kerry Healey, to run as his lieutenant governor and vouch for his pro-choice credentials. Once elected, he relegated Healey to back channel roles, but she remains loyal and supports his presidential bid.

Defeating women isn’t a crime. President Obama wouldn’t be in the Oval Office if he didn’t beat Hillary Clinton. But what Romney did on a core issue like abortion rights is wrong. While running for governor, Romney responded to a candidate survey with this statement: “I respect and will protect a woman’s right to choose. This choice is a deeply personal one. Women should be free to choose based on their own beliefs, not mine and not the government’s.’’

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His switch to abortion foe allegedly occurred during the Massachusetts debate over stem-cell research. It also coincided with his decision to make his first run for president. No longer worried about winning Massachusetts votes, Romney was free to flip. Is he there to stay? Abortion opponents should question his fealty; the other side already knows he is not trustworthy.

As Shannon O’Brien, the Democrat he defeated in 2002, points out, “The choice issue is just one glaring reason why women can’t trust Mr. Romney. The broader, more profound issue is about what he will do to protect and preserve family health care across the country. Where he had such promise as governor, setting the stage for using Massachusetts as a national model, now he’s saying he didn’t mean it, never said it, doesn’t want it. That’s the biggest flip-flop-flip that women should be concerned about.’’

Massachusetts Democrats are gleefully reminding voters of Romney’s singular role in health care reform. He pushed for the individual mandate. He personally escorted the first woman who signed up for Romneycare. At his request, his official State House portrait, which hangs in the reception area of the governor’s office, includes the artist’s rendition of Romney’s wife, Ann, and a stack of papers representing the state’s health care law.

Now, as the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, Romney pledges to repeal national health care reform. Which Romney do you trust: the one who wanted to prevent health insurance companies from denying coverage to Massachusetts citizens with pre-existing conditions, or the Romney who wants to repeal the law that accomplishes that for all Americans?

The ill-chosen words of Democratic consultant Hilary Rosen that Ann Romney “never worked a day in her life’’ are a distraction. Mrs. Romney worked hard raising five sons. But back in 1994, even her husband realized that full-time motherhood isn’t possible for all women. When Romney was running for the US Senate, he told an interviewer he realized not many mothers could afford to stay home. “I tell my kids, ‘We won the lottery. Don’t think this is normal. Don’t think that your life will have the kind of plenty that ours has had. We won the lottery,’ ’’ Romney said back then.

Today, the Romney campaign is hoping that a manufactured “war on mothers’’ will divide women and distract them from important issues like equal pay, access to health care, and government services that help the 99 percent.

It’s just one more change of heart for Romney and one more reason why it’s hard to trust him.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter@Joan_Vennochi.

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