Karen Garver Santorum, Rick Santorum’s Wife: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

karen santorum rick wife

Getty Former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), with wife Karen (R), daughter Bella, 7, and the rest of the family, announces his candidacy for the 2016 Republican nomination for president at Penn United Technologies May 27, 2015 in Cabot, Pennsylvania, This is the second run for Santorum, who finished runner-up in 2012 to nominee Mitt Romney.

Rick Santorum’s wife, Karen Garver Santorum, has stood by his side amidst political upheaval and personal battles. The two have been married for more than three decades.

Rick Santorum, a former U.S. Senator and current CNN commentator, is facing fierce backlash for comments that are being called racist toward Native Americans. He told the Young American’s Foundation “there isn’t much Native American culture in American culture.” You can watch a video of his full comments here or later in this post.

Rick and Karen Santorum were married in 1990. They have seven children, including a daughter with special needs named Isabella or “Bella.”

Here’s what you need to know:


1. Karen & Rick Santorum Have 7 Children & Their Daughter, Bella, Has a Deadly Genetic Condition

rick santorum wife

GettyFormer GOP presidential candidate and former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) (L) voices his opposition to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities during a news conference with his wife Karen Santorum (3rd L) and his daughters, Isabella and Sarah, at the Dirksen Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill November 26, 2012 in Washington, DC.

Karen Garver and Rick Santorum were married in 1990, and started their family soon after, according to NPR. They have seven children, including Bella, who has special needs. Isabella, now 13, has Trisomy 18. The couple wrote Bella’s Gift, published in 2015, about caring for their daughter.

“Four days after Rick and Karen Santorum welcomed their eighth baby into the world they were given the devastating news that their little girl, Bella, was going to die. The full story of life with Bella has never been told until now. This inspiring family memoir explores what it means to embrace and celebrate the life of each person, and find hope, even in the midst of painful challenges,” the book’s description says.

The couple’s fourth child of eight, Gabriel Michael Santorum, died soon after his birth in 1996. Their living children are Elizabeth, Richard John Jr, Daniel, Gabriel, Sarah, Peter, Patrick and Isabella.

Karen Garver Santorum was one of 12 children, also born into a staunch Catholic family, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Her father was a pediatrician. She has homeschooled all of their children, the article said.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote in 2012:

Based on what we see of Mrs. Santorum now as a wife and mother who has home-schooled all seven of the couple’s children, there is no reason to doubt her commitment to the strict Catholic code she and her husband espouse, objecting to birth control and abortion for any reason, including rape, incest and the health of the mother.

This last point, though, poses a problem. Mrs. Santorum had a difficult pregnancy in 1996 and the couple say they decided to induce premature labor to save Mrs. Santorum’s life (some critics have likened this to a second-trimester abortion, but the Santorums deny any similarity). In any case, the baby died, and Mrs. Santorum wrote about it in her 1998 book “Letters to Gabriel.”

That very personal decision was theirs to make. Other women deserve the same right without some politician looking up their hospital gowns. Two days after the 39th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, it’s important to remember that. Karen Santorum is entitled to a change of heart on the issue, but millions of American women still want and need abortion rights as much as ever.


2. Karen Santorum Is a Registered Nurse With Degrees in Both Nursing & Law

karen garver santorum

GettySurrounded by members of his family, Republican presidential candidate, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum hugs his wife Karen Santorum as he announces he will be suspending his campaign during a press conference at the Gettysburg Hotel on April 10, 2012 in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Santorum’s daughter, Bella, became ill over the Easter holiday and poll numbers showed he was losing to Mitt Romney in his home state of Pennsylvania.

Karen Garver graduated from the Western Pennsylvania Hospital School of Nursing in 1983, becoming a registered nurse, according to The Sun. After graduation, she worked in the neonatal intensive care unit.

At that time, she was also a law student. She worked in the NICU while attending the University of Pittsburgh for law school.

“Her devotion to children and babies is genuine,” Cece Sommers wrote in an email to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “She came to me once and said she just couldn’t take working in the neonatal nursery at Magee anymore as it just tore her up when they died.”


3. Karen Garver & Rick Santorum Met While She Was a Law Intern

karen santorum

GettyKaren Santorum listens as her husband former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum speaks during the Republican National Convention at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on August 28, 2012 in Tampa, Florida.

Karen Garver and Rick Santorum met while she was a law intern, working at the Kirkpatrick & Lockhart law practice, according to The Sun.

“She worked as a neonatal nurse for a while, then went to law school at the University of Pittsburgh,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

Rick Santorum was working at Kirkpatrick & Lockhart when Karen Garver was hired as a summer intern.

“She got a summer internship at Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, where Mr. Santorum practiced law,” the Post-Gazette article said. “They married in 1990 and began having children right away. He ran for Congress, and the rest of his zealous anti-abortion record is well-known.”


4. Karen Santorum Faced a Scandal in 2012 for a Previous Relationship With an Abortion Doctor

As a young woman in her 20s, Karen Garver had a relationship with an abortion doctor, Tom Allen, who was 40 years her senior. Due to Rick Santorum’s staunch beliefs against abortion, national tabloids called out the couple for her past relationship and said it was a mark of hypocrisy.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette took a different stance, writing in an opinion piece, “There are plenty of reasons to lodge charges of hypocrisy against Republican candidates for president. But in the case of Rick Santorum, his wife’s past is not one of them.”

Local reporters were well aware of the previous relationship, the article goes on to say.

“This has been well-known for decades to many people in Pittsburgh, including reporters. But it never circulated in print here, probably because it was regarded more as gossip than relevant information,” the article said.

The article says that claiming Karen Santorum’s previous relationship undercuts her husband’s stance on abortion is “a desperate and ridiculous charge, indicative of the tenuous hold on reality shared by some on the right-wing fringe whose votes Mr. Santorum is courting.”

The article says, “I don’t believe there’s anything hypocritical about Mrs. Santorum revising her abortion views. If anything, her story demonstrates the extent to which people can and do change over time. That doesn’t make them insincere. It makes them human.”


5. Native American Organizations Called for Rick Santorum to Be Taken Off the Air Following His Comments on Native American Culture

Rick Santorum spoke to the Young American’s Foundation, a group for conservative, Catholic students, on April 23, 2021, and said the culture of the United States was born out of Judeo-Christian values.

“We came here and created a blank slate. We birthed a nation from nothing. I mean, there was nothing here,” he said. “I mean, yes, we have Native Americans, but candidly, there’s isn’t much Native American culture in American culture.”

He said the country was “born of the people who came here pursuing religious liberty,” and said that America was founded on faith and on religious freedom.

“It is what makes America unique in the world,” he said.

Fawn Sharp, president of the National Congress of American Indians, had strong words for Santorum and CNN.

“Rick Santorum is an unhinged and embarrassing racist who disgraces CNN and any other media company that provides him a platform,” Sharp said in a statement. “Televising someone with his views on Native American genocide is fundamentally no different than putting an outright Nazi on television to justify the Holocaust.”

Sharp said CNN could face a boycott from 500 tribal nations if Santorum is not fired.

“Make your choice,” Sharp said. “Do you stand with white supremacists justifying Native American genocide, or do you stand with Native Americans?”

The Native American Journalists Association advised Native American reporters to refrain from working with CNN. The group had also claimed the network labeled Native American voters “something else” in election night coverage and did not apologize.

“The Native American Journalists Association strongly cautions Native American and Alaska Native reporters from working with, or applying to jobs, at CNN in the wake of continued racist comments and insensitive reporting directed at Indigenous people,” the group said in a statement.

They further called on “advertisers, funders and journalism diversity organizations to withdraw their support from CNN indefinitely.”

CNN did not immediately comment on Santorum publicly.