In an op-ed published in the Akron Beacon Journal on Tuesday, Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH) announced that he had changed his stance on abortion.
“There are many factors involved when a woman decides to end a pregnancy,” he wrote, “and over the past 14 years in political office, I have gained a deeper understanding of the complexities and emotions that accompany the difficult decisions that women and families make when confronted with these situations.”
“Today, I am a 41-year-old father and husband whose feelings on this issue have changed,” Ryan continued. “I have come a long way since being a single, 26-year-old state senator, and I am not afraid to say that my position has evolved as my experiences have broadened, deepened and become more personal.”
After spending two years as a state senator, Ryan was elected to Congress in 2003, and proceeded to vote for a host of anti-choice legislation, including parental notification laws, the “Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act,” a bill banning abortion in federally funded military medical facilities, a partial-birth abortion ban, and a bill that would ban human cloning.
Cleveland.com reports that according to the National Right to Life Committee, Ryan voted in line with anti-choicers 72 percent of the time.
As recently as 2009, Ryan claimed that he stood by all of those votes, even though every last one of the bills that he voted for is horrible. Parental notification laws unnecessarily impede abortion access for teenagers who may be living in abusive homes; the “Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act” attempts to guilt women out of their choice to terminate a pregnancy based on nonsense propagated by junk scientists like Byron C. Calhoun; banning abortion in the military is just heartless, especially given the high rates of sexual assault in the military; the partial birth abortion ban was conjured by hysterics based on right-wing propaganda that horrific Frankenstein-esque procedures were being performed on babies that could breathe on their own; and human cloning bans simply impede scientific progress that might help people live longer, healthier lives. Besides, who among us wouldn’t want a clone? I’d like an Angry Black Clone immediately, please.
The point is, Ryan doesn’t and shouldn’t get a pass for these votes.
But in 2009, he also did something rather remarkable for a “pro-life” Congressman. He co-sponsored a bill with pro-choice Democrat Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), called the Preventing Unintended Pregnancies, Reducing the Need for Abortion, and Supporting Parents Act (or PUPRNASPA, if you’re into the whole brevity thing.)
PUPRNASPA—I’m fairly certain that no one ever called it that because it doesn’t quite roll off the tongue—was touted as a common ground bill upon which both anti- and pro-choice forces could agree.
The bill would have helped to prevent unintended pregnancies and reduce the number of abortions through improved access to contraception, comprehensive and fact-based sex education programs for parents and for teens, support for pregnant and parenting college students, expanded adoption assistance for pregnant women, and increased health-care coverage for pregnant women and children.
The bill failed. What should have been a win-win was insufficiently “pro-life.” After all, few anti-choicers are a fan of increasing access to contraception, especially since so many of them wrongly believe the most basic forms of birth control actually cause an abortion. (Just this week, for example, a senator from Colorado opposed a teen pregnancy program because he thinks that IUDs “stop a small child from implanting.”) And it seems even fewer anti-choicers support any sort of sex education for teens aside from telling them, “Don’t have sex until you’re married, you filthy whores.”
Unsurprisingly, therefore, Ryan’s co-sponsorship of the bill landed him in hot water with groups like the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) and Democrats for Life, which were none too pleased with Ryan’s betrayal. The NRLC dubbed Ryan a “pro-life impersonator,” and its legislative director, Douglas Johnson, penned a blog post in which he complained, “When Tim Ryan calls for ‘common ground,’ you know he has a memo from Planned Parenthood in his pocket.” And, in 2009, Democrats for Life of America kicked Ryan off of its executive board.
All of this is to say that the fact that Rep. Ryan has officially bid the anti-choice movement adieu is not surprising. After all, by his second term in Congress, Ryan’s NRLC rating had plummeted to zero, presumably because he dared to try to reach some common ground in a way that would appease both pro- and anti-choice forces. It also didn’t help that he voted no on banning federal health coverage for abortion.
So publicly announcing that he has changed his position on abortion seems like the next logical step.
It is easy to cast this change as a cynical ploy to further his political career. Cleveland.com notes, “some observers believe that this might preface a run for higher office,” and quotes Ohio Right to Life President Michael Gonidakis as saying that Ryan’s switch “clearly demonstrates his opportunistic and self-centered approach in seeking higher office.” Gonidakis believes that Ryan intends to run against anti-choice Sen. Rob Portman in 2016.
There is some merit to such a charge. After all, Ryan’s political ambitions are no secret. In December of last year, Ryan expressed his interest in running against Sen. Portman, and running as an anti-choice Democrat against an anti-choice Republican—which Portman is—probably doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
But who’s to say that political ambitions can’t coincide with an actual change of heart? The fact that the NRLC can’t stand Ryan is comforting, as is the fact that in 2013, Ryan voted against a federal 20-week abortion ban (HR 1797).
So when he writes, “I have come to believe that we must trust women and families—not politicians—to make the best decision for their lives,” I’m inclined to believe him. He seems to have been walking the walk.
Whether he will follow up his abortion switcheroo with some concrete action—especially now that Republicans control Congress and seem intent on regulating the contents of every person’s uterus—remains to be seen.
Still, I welcome his change of heart with a full-throttled “Hooray!”—at least for now.