Commentary Politics

Paul Ryan’s Missing Children and Mitt Romney’s Forbidden Grandchildren

Carole Joffe

Paul Ryan’s relatively small family and Mitt Romney’s quite large one reveal the reproductive minefields for Republican candidates who presumably are expected to show obedience, in their personal lives, to the party’s extremist platform.

Paul Ryan and his wife, Janna, have three very cute young children. Mitt Romney and his wife, Ann, are the parents of five grown sons and the proud grandparents of eighteen.  Normally, beyond supplying the requisite photo ops to assure voters that the presidential ticket is composed of “good family men” (or women), the actual number of individuals in such candidates’ family does not gather much attention. Normally, moreover, I would not feel comfortable writing about the private reproductive choices of candidates, and especially those of their wives and children. But of course, these are hardly normal times in American politics, given the centrality of the radical agenda on reproduction in the contemporary Republican Party—and Romney and Ryan’s enthusiastic endorsement of this agenda, which if passed, would bring misery to millions of Americans.

Both Paul Ryan’s relatively small family and Mitt Romney’s quite large one reveal the reproductive minefields for Republican candidates who presumably are expected to show obedience, in their personal lives, to the party’s extremist platform. The Ryans’ reproductive choices, in particular, may also be an example of the perennial hypocrisy of politicians who do not live by the rules they seek to establish for others.

Let’s consider, first, the number of children that Paul Ryan has. He and his wife married in 2000. Let us assume they have not made use of birth control in their married life (which would make Janna Ryan among the 2 percent of Catholic women who have not used contraception.) This should be a fair assumption to make, given that Ryan is a co-sponsor of a federal “Sanctity of Human Life Act,” which among other things, would prohibit many forms of birth control, and he has been a firm opponent of family planning programs.

But the fact that only three children have emerged in 12 years of marriage is puzzling. Figures from the respected Contraceptive Technology website show that 85 percent of women in couples where no contraceptive method is used for a year will experience an unintended pregnancy. If the Ryans have been using so-called “natural family planning”, also known as “fertility awareness-based methods,” then their chances of an unintended pregnancy in a given year would have been 25 percent. Had Paul Ryan used a condom, his wife’s chance of an unintended pregnancy in a year would be 15 percent. In short, it is hard to understand how this marriage of 12 years has produced only 3 children, unless this couple have used more reliable methods of birth control. (It is, of course, possible that the Ryans have experienced infertility issues, in which case they have my sincere sympathy).

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As for Mitt Romney, a decidedly awkward aspect for him with respect to his large number of grandchildren is that, as the New York Times reported, at least three of them were born to his son, Tagg, through the use of in vitro fertilization (IVF) and surrogacy. Furthermore, according to Mother Jones, “Two of Tagg’s brothers reportedly have struggled with infertility issues and resorted to IVF as well.” But Romney is well-remembered, in pro-choice and religious right circles alike, for his answer of “absolutely” when  Mike Huckabee, a favorite of the religious right, asked if he would support a constitutional amendment declaring that life begins at conception—an amendment which, if passed, would not only outlaw abortion and many forms of contraception, but  would also criminalize IVF, the very procedure by which some of his grandchildren came into being.

The Ryans’ probable use of birth control and the Romney family’s use of IVF are only the latest examples of a long string of Republican candidates being caught in an understandable inability to live up to the absolutist demands of their party. Remember, in 1988, vice-presidential candidate Dan Quayle’s “gaffe” (which many considered his most human moment of the campaign) when he admitted to a reporter that “I’d support my daughter” if she chose to have an abortion? Or George H.W. Bush, in 1980, hurriedly agreeing to officially disown his support for abortion rights, so Ronald Reagan would find him an acceptable running mate?

The difference between these earlier incidents and now is that then the reproductive minefields were specifically about abortion. Now, not only has the ante been raised with respect to abortion—high profile Republican candidates are currently expected to disavow the traditional exceptions for rape and incest—but support for contraception and assisted reproduction can prove toxic to candidates as well. (Tagg Romney’s use of IVF did not go unnoticed in anti-choice circles). It remains to be seen how these extreme positions, let alone the Republican candidates’ difficulties in living up to them, will be a factor in November’s election.

Commentary Human Rights

From Sanger Raids to Fetal-Tissue Research Battles: A Short History of Hypocrisy

Carole Joffe

There's a long tradition of politicians and authority figures railing against reproductive health-care services, yet claiming the right to use them for their own benefit.

In a story that has remarkable relevance for today’s reproductive wars, on March 22, 1929, the New York City Police Department sent an undercover female detective to a birth control clinic run by Margaret Sanger. Detective Anna McNamara received an examination and and was told by the examining physician of several pelvic disorders. Strikingly, even though she had obtained the necessary evidence that the clinic was providing then-illegal birth control services, McNamara returned to the clinic several times for follow-up visits.

Her visits preceded the April 15 police raid that temporarily closed the clinic and resulted in its physicians’ arrests. At her last follow-up visit, McNamara received a contraceptive device from one of the doctors who would soon be arrested.

This story embodies beautifully the contradictions—or more accurately hypocrisies—we have seen over and over again in U.S. society as figures associated with the right try to control women’s sexuality and reproductive behavior. Such hypocrisy has most recently emerged in political scandals and the conservative campaign against fetal tissue research, from which lawmakers themselves have directly or indirectly benefited.

These zealots have historically allowed themselves the behaviors and health-care services they work so hard to deny to others. Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley (R), now implicated in a potential affair (which he not very convincingly denies), is only the latest in a seemingly endless list of “family values” politicians discovered to have committed adultery. The numerous instances of anti-choice women who themselves get abortions, often arguing, as clinic workers have reported to me, that “their case is different” (and more deserving) than other abortion patients, are more examples of right-wing hypocrisy. Or take those politicians who ferociously attack Planned Parenthood at every opportunity and consistently vote against funding for family planning programs while diverting funds to crisis pregnancy centers, which do not offer contraception. Yet many, if not most, of these elected officials appear to have average family sizes, strongly suggesting the use of contraception.

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As the recent video sting-inspired campaign against Planned Parenthood escalates into a full-blown witch hunt against fetal tissue researchers, the right-wing zealots’ hypocrisy is exposed once again. Consider the case of Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), chair of the infamous “Select Investigative Panel on Infant Lives.” Blackburn is leading a campaign of McCarthyite proportions to intimidate fetal tissue researchers, subpoenaing the names not only of researchers in various universities, but of everyone who worked in their labs, including technicians and graduate students. (The unprecedented scope of the committee’s demand for names represents yet another eerie parallel to the 1929 police raid on Sanger’s clinics, in which the police seized patient records.)

It is highly likely that Blackburn’s family and loved ones received the polio vaccine as infants: a vaccine derived thanks to fetal tissue research. The first polio vaccine was introduced in 1955—as Blackburn was born in 1952, it is possible she herself received it as a toddler.

Together, the discovery of the polio vaccine and the subsequent near-eradication of polio globally stand as one of the greatest public health triumphs of modern times. But today research using fetal tissue is imperiled, by Blackburn’s committee’s frightening tactics and by conservative state legislators’ election-year rush to ban tissue donation. Even more disturbingly, six states have banned the conducting of this research altogether.

Ever since the notorious Center for Medical Progress videos were released last summer, this atmosphere of intimidation surrounding fetal tissue research has had an understandably chilling effect on researchers, making them hesitant to publicly defend their work due to fears of violence. Potentially groundbreaking work—on the Zika virus, on diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease—is in jeopardy because the tissue supply is drying up, which can be logically be attributed to the current volatile climate.

There is a direct connection between Anna McNamara and Rep. Blackburn. The detective both sought medical advice from a birth control clinic and helped shut it down. The congresswoman has both benefited from fetal tissue research—from the vaccines her loved ones very likely received—and is now trying to destroy it. (Even if her family members were not vaccinated, they benefited from the protective effect of others’ vaccines, known as “herd immunity”).

Both cases show the conflicts that can arise between individuals’ personal lives and their public ones. We can speculate that Anna McNamara felt she had no choice but to cooperate with her police superiors, given the need to support her family as the Depression approached. Obviously, Blackburn and her Republican colleagues do not need to be pursuing this witch hunt out of economic necessity. Tragically, one can only conclude they perceive their attack on fetal tissue research as political necessity at a time of ever-increasing demands from their right-wing base.

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: Trump Victim Blames, Clinton Talks Subminimum Wage

Ally Boguhn

A CNN/ORC International poll released Thursday found that 74 percent of registered women voters said they viewed Donald Trump “unfavorably.”

Donald Trump this week continued to defend his campaign manager after he was charged with simple battery against a reporter, and Hillary Clinton took on the subminimum wage.

“She Made Up This Story”: Trump Ignores Video Evidence to Defend Campaign Manager Against Battery Charges

Trump refused to back down from his defense of campaign manager Corey Lewandowski after Lewandowski was charged with simple battery for allegedly forcefully grabbing and bruising a former Breitbart reporter at a campaign event.

Police in Jupiter, Florida charged Lewandoski Tuesday after reporter Michelle Fields on March 8 complained that he grabbed her by the arm, threw her off balance, and left bruises. Fields was attempting to ask Trump a question when she felt someone “yank her left arm,” according to the arrest report

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Fields later showed an officer “her left forearm, which revealed bruising from what appeared to be several finger marks indicating a grabbing type injury.”

In the weeks since the incident, Trump and Lewandowski have attempted to discredit Fields, calling her “delusional” and flatly denying an altercation ever occurred, though the Washington Post’s Ben Terris corroborated her account.

Video evidence of the incident appears to corroborate Fields’ account. Nonetheless, during an interview Wednesday on NBC’s Today Show, Trump claimed that Fields “made up this story.” He suggested she had provoked the incident. “She grabbed me by the arm, I didn’t even know who it was. But she went through Secret Service because they were surrounding me and we were walking out. And by the way she was asking me questions she wasn’t supposed to because the press conference had ended.”

Trump suggested he should press charges against Fields for what happened.

The GOP frontrunner cast doubts on Fields’ story, according to NPR, saying, “Wouldn’t you think she would have yelled out a scream if she had bruises on her arm?”

“What Donald Trump is doing fits the very definition of victim blaming, and it is not only unacceptable, it is actively dangerous,” Nita Chaudhary, cofounder of advocacy group UltraViolet, told the New York Times. “They are belittling Michelle Fields’s [sic] claim despite overwhelming evidence.”

“Comments like this essentially perpetuate violence against women,” Chaudhary added.

Trump’s campaign has been plagued by controversy over his treatment of women—and it could cost him votes. A CNN/ORC International poll released Thursday found that 74 percent of registered women voters polled said they viewed Trump “unfavorably.”

Trump has been harshly criticized for lobbing sexist remarks at Fox News journalist Megyn Kelly throughout the campaign season, accusing her of being a “lightweight” with “blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever,” after she questioned his disparaging comments about women during an August debate.

This rhetoric led the Our Principles PAC, a super PAC formed by former Mitt Romney staffer Katie Packer, to create an ad highlighting direct quotes the candidate has made, including using terms directed at women like “bimbo” and “fat pig.”

Clinton Speaks Out Against Subminimum Wage

Clinton condemned “legal loopholes” that allow employers to pay people with disabilities less than the minimum wage during a Monday campaign stop in Madison, Wisconsin.

“When it comes to jobs, we’ve got to figure out how we get the minimum wage up and include people with disabilities in the minimum wage,” Clinton said in response to a question from an audience member about the candidate’s plan to address rights and job opportunities for disabled workers.

“There should not be a tiered wage, and right now there is a tiered wage when it comes to facilities that do provide opportunities but not at a self-sufficient wage that enables people to gain a degree of independence as far as they can go,” Clinton continued. “When people talk about raising the minimum wage, they don’t always talk about the legal loopholes that we have in it and I want to get rid of those and I want to get rid of that for people with disabilities too.”

Some employers are able to pay those with “a physical or mental disability” less than the minimum wage, or the subminimum wage under the Federal Labor Standard Act (FLSA). According to the Department of Labor, “Employment at less than the minimum wage is designed to prevent the loss of employment opportunities for these individuals.”

Disability rights advocates say that the policy has led to the exploitation of many of these workers.

Ari Ne’eman, co-founder of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, told the Huffington Post that Clinton’s comments were “game changing” for the issue. “To see a major presidential candidate take a stance on this is a very significant step,” Ne’eman said.

What Else We’re Reading

Trump told MSNBC’s Chris Matthews during a town hall event that women who receive abortion care should face “some form of punishment” if the procedure is outlawed, then backtracked amid criticism. But as Irin Carmon wrote for MSNBC, “Women are already being prosecuted for having abortions” in the United States.

Trump’s comments on punishing women who have abortions shines an “accidental spotlight on one of the most inconvenient truths of the Republican platform,” explained Jessica Valenti for the Guardian.

“I wear that as a badge of pride. I’m not going to apologize to anyone,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) said in response to criticism of his calls to “patrol and secure” U.S. Muslim communities.

Politico’s Rachana Pradhan and Paul Demko ask where Cruz’s plan to replace the Affordable Care Act is. 

The Iowa Supreme Court will decide whether the state will restore voting rights to more than 20,000 ex-felons in the state.