Recently, Newsweek ran a story about former U.S. Senator, and Catholic enthusiast, Rick Santorum, and his wife’s sordid sexual past. That’s right. You read that correctly. Not only does Santorum’s wife have a sexual past...but it’s a pretty scandalous one at that. Well, for the 80s.
Rick Santorum has been extremely outspoken about his stance on women’s rights over bodily autonomy. He is pro-life and proud of it. His wife, Karen, is also a staunch pro-lifer and mother to their seven children, all of which are home schooled. Santorum often refers to his wife’s book, Letters to Gabriel, which is the story of their tragic 1997 miscarriage on the campaign trail. This couple is fiercely protective of the right to life, opposing birth control (hence the seven kids) as well as abortion, regardless if the woman was raped.
But it didn’t take much to discover that Karen had a life before becoming Mrs. Santorum. Interestingly enough, she lived with a man (yes, outside of marriage) through most of her 20s. Her lover? Dr. Tom Allen, a local Pittsburgh obstetrician, abortion provider and outspoken crusader for reproductive rights and women’s health. That’s right. Oh, and did I mention Dr. Allen was 40 years older than Mrs. Santorum? Another interesting tidbit...Dr. Allen has known Karen Garver (her maiden name) throughout her entire life. After all, he delivered her in 1960.
Their open love affair lasted six years, and began when Garver was a 22-year-old nursing student at Duquesne University. Allen was 63 at the time. He was known for delivering babies and helped to begin a “therapeutic abortion” clinic at Magee-Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh long before Roe v Wade came to pass. They were able to skirt around the legalities of performing abortions by getting psychiatrists on board to state that a woman’s fragile mental health superseded any legal restrictions to the procedure.
So, how did they connect? When Mrs. Santorum was looking to rent an apartment while in school, she sought out Dr. Allen, as he owned a building that not only housed his practice, but also contained a basement apartment. He had raised his family on the upper two floors of the building, but his children were grown and he was divorced.
Garver moved into the apartment, but didn’t last long. Dr. Allen recalls, “That first night, as soon as it got dark, she called to say she was scared and asked if she could come up. I figured it was a come-on, but that was OK.” And so began the love affair. Karen left that basement apartment and never went back.
As strange as this situation may seem in retrospect, at the time Dr. Allen said it was really no big deal. “Karen was a lovely girl, very intelligent and sweet. Karen had no problem with what I did for a living. We never really discussed it,” states the 92-year-old doctor.
Dr. Allen’s long time friends, Mary and Herbert Greenberg, recalled that Karen never spoke out then against abortion and seemed “familiar and comfortable” with the subject whenever they were socializing together. Mary Greenberg even remarked about a specific event that occurred in 1983 when she flew to Pittsburgh to consult Dr. Allen about an abortion. He referred her to colleagues at the Women’s Health Center and Mary stated that Karen even offered to accompany her to the clinic.
“She told me it wasn’t that bad, that I shouldn’t be worried,” says Mary. “She was very supportive.”
By 1988 the relationship had run its course. Garver wanted to have children, something that Dr. Allen had already done. There were no hard feelings. In fact, even after they broke it off in 1988, Dr. Allen received a Christmas card from Karen simply stating, “I miss you.”
So why do I bring this story up? I feel as though it is important to remember that we all walk different paths in our lives and all have different stories to tell. This is an especially intriguing story considering the huge change that occurred in Karen after meeting Rick Santorum. I find it interesting that a woman who stands by a man who denies women rights over their own body used to live with and love a man who was, in essence, Santorum’s worst nightmare. Yes, you can argue that people change their tune and she was young and in love. But at the end of the day, Garver loved a man who respected a woman’s right to choose. The Santorums refuse to speak on this topic, as it must be quite an embarrassment to both of them now. But I look to this situation and see the humanity in Garver, something I hadn’t been able to see before. And even though it was just a flicker of a past life, it’s nice to know she did sparkle, once upon a time.
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