We are reprinting Suzan Mazur’s 2008 interview with Judith Dushku about Mitt Romney’s tenure as a Mormon Bishop. — AC / JSC
When Mormon feminist Judith Dushku learned that Mitt Romney, her former bishop and friend, counseled a woman to come to full term with her sixth pregnancy –despite overwhelming medical advice that the life of mother and child were seriously endangered — she confronted Romney about the matter, privately and publicly. He reacted bitterly, breaking off their relationship. Dushku says Romney still speaks to others in her family, however, which includes daughter/actress Eliza, known for her television role as “Faith” in the series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Judy Dushku has been a professor of government for 40 years. She now teaches at Suffolk University in Massachusetts and is Fulbright Senior Specialist there. For a while she also served as Dean of Suffolk’s Senegal campus.
Dushku has traveled widely in Africa and elsewhere as part of her involvement with international study-abroad programs. And she’s a vigorous anti-war and human rights activist as well. In 2005, she was part of a Global Exchange delegation that visited victims of tsunami-ravaged Indonesia’s Band Ache.
Dushku considers herself a Social Democrat and has a problem with right-wing Utah Mormon politics. She agrees with me that the polygamy cults out West still exist due to a political coverup.
Our interview follows.
Suzan Mazur: Mitt Romney was bishop of your church in Massachusetts.
Judy Dushku: Yes. I first met him in the very early 1970s when we were both in the same congregation in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was my bishop for five years and after that he was stake president for five years, meaning that he presided over a larger area in Massachusetts, which included my ward.
In the Mormon Church, there’s no trained leadership. The Lord inspires those in authority in Salt Lake City to call down through a hierarchy of people certain members to serve as bishops, teachers, etc. The idea is to get everybody involved. It increases the sense of commitment.
Suzan Mazur: Does a person’s financial contribution to the church have anything to do with whether or not they’re chosen to be a bishop or stake president?
Judy Dushku: No, except that in order to be called to the high leadership position you have to be temple worthy. There are a series of questions that are asked in the temple interview and one of them is: ”Do you pay 10% of your income to the church?” And so Mitt Romney would have to have answered that question “Yes” in order to be eligible to be bishop.
Suzan Mazur: Now you also considered Mitt Romney a friend.
Judy Dushku: Yes.
Suzan Mazur: But you broke off your friendship with him when you publicly criticized his approach to the abortion issue while he was bishop, specifically his sadistic “counseling” of a 40ish-year-old woman in her sixth pregnancy to give birth, even though her doctor advised her that she’d developed blood clots and that her life was in danger.
Judy Dushku: I sort of naively didn’t think I was breaking off the friendship. I was upset about the position he took. And I wanted it to be clear both privately and publicly how upset I was about that. But I did go up to Mitt after his 1994 Senatorial race to congratulate him for making a respectable showing against Ted Kennedy, whom I had actively supported.
Suzan Mazur: And what did he say?
Judy Dushku: He said I’m so angry at you. I don’t ever want to talk about this again. And I don’t want to talk to you.
And I said, I’m sorry about that Mitt because I thought we could have our political differences and remain at least cordial.
He said – No. That’s not possible.
Suzan Mazur: Bits of this story have appeared elsewhere, but would you recount the story of Bishop Mitt Romney’s counseling of this pregnant woman?
Judy Dushku: It was in the late 1970s. She was a woman about 40 years old, 3 ½ to 4 months into her sixth pregnancy. We’ll call her woman “X”. She was an active member of the ward where Romney was bishop in Massachusetts, at that time in a neighboring community where I was not a member. The stake president was a doctor named Gordon and was an old friend of X.
X and her husband went to the hospital because she had an aching in her leg. Her doctor was alarmed after examining her, telling her she had developed blood clots and could not carry the pregnancy to full term. He said they’d have to give her blood thinners in order to get rid of the clots and that they would endanger the baby.
X had lost her first baby; the child was born with many physical problems and died at two or three weeks old. X was already the mother of four teenage children. This would have been her sixth.
Suzan Mazur: And X and her husband decided they would abort the child because her life was in danger.
Judy Dushku: Yes.
Suzan Mazur: And she advised her bishop – Mitt Romney – that she was going to terminate the pregnancy for medical reasons. And what did he say?
Judy Dushku: First of all the stake president – Gordon – came by to see X with a friend and said well it looks like you have to do this – terminate the pregnancy. He was perfectly comfortable with X’s decision, since both she and the child were in peril. And Gordon was technically higher in the LDS church hierarchy than Mitt was as bishop.
So then Mitt came in to the hospital. X thought Mitt had come to be comforting because that’s what bishops do. They have a pastoral role. But she said that instead he was critical.
He said – What do you think you’re doing?
She said – Well, we have to abort the baby because I have these blood clots.
And he said something to the effect of – Well, why do you get off easy when other women have their babies?
And she said – What are you talking about? This is a life threatening situation.
And he said – Well what about the life of the baby?
And she said – I have four other children and I think it would be really irresponsible to continue the pregnancy.
X said she found herself arguing with Romney about her medical crisis, said he was very unsympathetic, very critical, and said that under the circumstances in no way did he condone her aborting the child. And he left.
She was extremely distraught. Talked it over with her husband. They decided to go ahead with the abortion. After that she left the church.
Suzan Mazur: She’s okay now?
Judy Dushku: Yes.
Suzan Mazur: And you then confronted Romney over the matter.
Judy Dushku: In the early 90s, our feminist newspaper Exponent II, did a theme issue about Mormonism and abortion. X said she’d like to write a piece describing her experience. We agreed to publish her story anonymously because we knew her and knew about the ordeal.
Then in 1994, when Romney was running for the Senate, he came out in favor of choice for women — which was surprising to me. I was pleased and called, asking to see him. I told him I suspected that we had our differences, but that maybe I could work with him if he’d come to a really good position on women and childbirth.
And he said – Yes, come to my office.
I went to his office and I congratulated him on taking a pro-choice position. And his response was – Well they told me in Salt Lake City I could take this position, and in fact I probably had to in order to win in a liberal state like Massachusetts.
Suzan Mazur: Who’s “THEY”?
Judy Dushku: I asked him the same question. And he said “the Brethren” in Salt Lake City.
And I said, Mitt, it doesn’t make me happy to hear that. What you’re suggesting is that you’re not genuinely pro-choice. It’s a position of convenience.
He said – Oh no, I actually had an aunt who died of a botched abortion. So I have some positive feelings about choice, but basically I know that I have to take that position.
So I said – How do you feel about choice for poor women and state funding of abortion for poor women?
He said, I’m against that. The state has no right or responsibility to fund abortions for poor women.
And I said – Well Mitt, I thought there was possibly some kind of room for mutual agreement on this issue but it appears there’s really not. I think we’re quite far apart on the issue of choice. It’s nice meeting with you here and talking with you. Good luck with your campaign, however, I can’t support you.
Suzan Mazur: We know how tight Mitt Romney is with the LDS church. There’s an institute in his father’s name at church-funded Brigham Young University. Mitt Romney has been credited as point man in bringing the 2002 Winter Olympics to Salt Lake City — the security for which served as a model for the Department of Homeland Security. The irony, of course, is that only a few bus stops away live the Allred polygamist cult of 5,000-8,000 members, the Kingston polygamists and to the south the FLDS polygamists numbering 10,000-12,000.
Why do you suppose Romney has failed to do anything to help those in the Mormon culture trapped in polygamy?
Judy Dushku: Well he’s of my generation. We grew up in the church at a time when polygamy was never discussed. In fact, I did a search this morning for several articles on polygamy and they all say virtually the same thing. In the 1940s, 50s and 60s, the official church position was polygamy was only practiced by a very few people. In fact, at that time the church even denied that founder Joseph Smith practiced polygamy. It was never mentioned in a church publication.
I was told as a child by my very observant parents that it’s a question we didn’t talk about. It affected such a small minority of people. The church was so much against it now that it needn’t concern me.
Most people my age just grew up in a state of denial about the reality of polygamy, particularly if they lived away from Utah. It’s only in the last 10 or 15 years that people have become aware of how prevalent polygamy is as a result of various media exposes.
I’d say – in Romney’s defense – that he didn’t think polygamy would become an issue.
Suzan Mazur: But it has. And Mitt Romney knows very well what’s going on – his father George, who somehow was allowed to run for president of the United States in 1968, was born in a Mexican polygamy colony — Colonia Juarez, Chihuahua.. So why does Romney continue to look the other way on this issue?
Judy Dushku: Well, I really think that he thought he could do like the Kennedys have done and say my religion will not be an issue. It’s a private matter.
Suzan Mazur: That still doesn’t get him off the hook. Romney is supposedly point man in bringing the Olympics to Utah, the major American officials traipse through to get to the Games, and then when the Olympic caravan packs up — nothing is done about the polygamy cults dug in. There’s obviously a big political coverup here.
Judy Dushku: I agree with you, but I think that during Romney’s Senate race in 1994 he was able to get away from confronting Mormonism because he was not running for national office.
Suzan Mazur: What’s your feeling about LDS church scripture still advocating polygamy, specifically the Book of Mormon Doctrine & Covenants, section 132? [“if any man espouse a virgin, and desire to espouse another, and the first give her consent, and if he espouse the second, and they are virgins, and have vowed to no other man, then is he justified, he cannot commit adultery . . . And if he have ten virgins given unto him by this law, he cannot commit adultery. . . therefore is he justified.” — Joseph Smith]
Judy Dushku: It’s been an issue for me since I became aware of it. Removing it from scripture would take a revelation from the church’s current prophet and church president – Gordon B. Hinckley.
I’m also bothered by the fact that the church has said it excommunicates people who practice polygamy, but the fact is that only a small percentage have been excommunicated. Some practice it right under the nose of the church and no one investigates that.
And you understand that LDS people put great emphasis on the importance of “eternal marriage” – marriage that continues after life on Earth. But with that doctrine there is a difference in the rules regarding the marriages of women and men. A woman cannot be married to anyone else for time and all eternity if she divorces and remarries but a man can marry as many as he wants if the wives are temple worthy. They’ll all be his wives in heaven. The implication is that polygamy is still part of our scriptures and our theology when it comes to the afterlife.
Suzan Mazur: Is a member of the LDS church answerable first to the church and then to family and professional calling next?
Judy Dushku: Yes, but with an understanding that loyalty to family is very important. My husband is not a Mormon and no one in the church would criticize me for my loyalty to him.
Suzan Mazur: But while you have a certain skepticism about the religion, you don’t have any inclination to leave the religion?
Judy Dushku: That’s right. And don’t ask me why, as it is hard to explain briefly.
Suzan Mazur: Because it’s come under a lot of attack. Many see the LDS church as a money making scheme rather than a religion. And a political tool. And that the church feeds the FBI, CIA, Treasury, etc. with personnel. Sends missionaries on dubious missions abroad and when they come back they’re recruited by the intel agencies. Also, I’ve noted in a recent article that beginning in 1985, which is when the Latin American countries came into their own as narco-economies – that the LDS church doubled its membership in Mexico, particularly.
Judy Dushku: Yes.
Suzan Mazur: It is not publicly known how much is in the LDS treasury or what the source of the money is. A bishop from a Roman Catholic church in Mexico has been quoted, for instance, by the AP saying yes some of his church funds do come from drug money and it’s not the church’s responsibility to investigate the origin of those funds.
Then you’ve got this funny little airport on the Utah-Arizona border funded by local, state and federal monies to the tune of $3 million and run by the FLDS polygamists for decades. It grew out of a dirt airstrip in the 1960s. Very isolated. Just north of the Grand Canyon, a plane hop from Vegas and the Mexican border.
What’s going on? There are reports that it’s served as a kind of Mena, Arkansas airstrip for drugs, money laundering and trafficking of women. In fact, just south of Phoenix there’s another airport – Marana – that we know served as a CIA base for clandestine activity — where Evergreen Air and Air America flew in and out of in the 70s.
One of the reasons the polygamists on the Utah-Arizona strip were not disturbed for decades?
Judy Dushku: That surprises me a lot what you just said. Because my impression of those communities is that they are so isolated from the world. I have no knowledge of these reported activities of the church in Latin America or on the border. The polygamist communities seem so separate from the world.
Suzan Mazur: Not so separate. The Colorado City Airport was named Arizona’s “Airport of the Year” in 1992.
And you’ve got Senator Orrin Hatch speaking in southern Utah condoning polygamy. Plus the politics of Senator Bob Bennett, that go back to the days of Richard Nixon and Howard Hughes, when Bennett operated from a PR agency in Washington– Robert Mullen Associates — that fronted for the CIA. In fact, Nixon though Bennett was Deep Throat.
Judy Dushku: While I can’t imagine the actual leadership of the official church being involved in these kinds of activities, when it comes to right-wing Mormons involved in politics, I wouldn’t put anything past either one of them. Membership in the LDS church has never been a guarantee against involvement in criminal activity. But I do not believe this is orchestrated by “the Brethren” – the actual spiritual leadership.
Suzan Mazur: Connect the dots.
Judy Dushku: I don’t want to be your source on these matters, but as a Leftist, nothing would surprise me about these right wing connections.
Suzan Mazur: Are you disturbed by the creation myth in the Book of Mormon about the ancient Israelites “becoming” Native Americans?
Judy Dushku: There was a time when I found it quite distressing. But it doesn’t bother me anymore. I went through a period when there were so many things that bothered me that I started going to other organizations to find a spiritual home. And really discovered that I’m so touched and motivated by the basic Christian teachings that I learned all of my life in the Mormon church that that’s the language that reaches me the most deeply. I deeply value my membership and participation in the church. It is central to my life.
Suzan Mazur: And so you sort of take from it what you need.
Judy Dushku: Yes. I’m somewhat of a smorgasbord person.
Suzan Mazur: Why do you think Gladys Knight is a Mormon?
Judy Dushku: I’ve heard her speak and I’ve heard her say that it sounded like a pure and simple testimony of Christ that inspired her and made her want to be better and that was what she was looking for. I was a little surprised myself, but, those who know her are convinced that she is absolutely converted.
Suzan Mazur: It doesn’t have anything to do with the Mormons bankrolling Las Vegas, etc., right?
Judy Dushku: I don’t think so.
Suzan Mazur: How do you think Mitt Romney will do ultimately in the presidential race?
Judy Dushku: He’s got so much money. He’s publicly appealing and charming – more charming than McCain. And I think the Republicans will not tolerate a Guliani, so he has a very good chance. It depends on whether the Democrats can get their act together and present someone better.
Suzan Mazur: And he’s a good business man. But don’t you think the business model has gone as far as it can go in presidential politics? Isn’t it time for a switch to leadership that cares about more than business moguls and generals?
Judy Dushku: You’re talking to a Social Democrat who reads Paul Krugman and CounterPunch and thinks that it has all been downhill since the New Deal restraints on business and legal protections of unions and peoples’ rights. As a professor of government for over 40 years, I believe that we’ve never been in such terrible shape since the robber barons. The control of corporate money on America is a disaster and has led to the decline and fall of democracy.
Suzan Mazur: So it’s gone as far as it can go?
Judy Dushku: Unfortunately, it’s gone way beyond that.
SUZAN MAZUR’s reports have appeared in the Financial Times, The Economist, Forbes, Newsday, Philadelphia Inquirer, Archaeology, Connoisseur, Omni and others, as well as on PBS, CBC and MBC. She has been a guest on McLaughlin, Charlie Rose and various Fox Television News programs. Her new book, The Altenberg 16: An Expose of the Evolution Industry, is published by North Atlantic Books. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org