Hard Line

08.11.12

Paul Ryan’s Extreme Abortion Views

Mitt's VP pick is a known fiscal conservative, but his social ideology is at least as radical. Michelle Goldberg on Ryan's insinuations that women who choose abortion could be jailed.

By now, you surely know, if you didn’t already, that Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential pick, wants to privatize Social Security and turn Medicare into a voucher system. You might have read that, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, his economic plan “calls for radical policy changes that would result in a massive transfer of resources from the broad majority of Americans to the nation’s wealthiest individuals.”

Less attention has been paid, though, to Ryan’s hard-right positions on social issues. Indeed, on abortion and women’s health care, there isn’t much daylight between Ryan and, say, Michele Bachmann. Any Republican vice-presidential candidate is going to be broadly anti-abortion, but Ryan goes much further. He believes ending a pregnancy should be illegal even when it results from rape or incest, or endangers a woman’s health. He was a cosponsor of the Sanctity of Human Life Act, a federal bill defining fertilized eggs as human beings, which, if passed, would criminalize some forms of birth control and in vitro fertilization. The National Right to Life Committee has scored his voting record 100 percent every year since he entered the House in 1999. “I’m as pro-life as a person gets,” he told The Weekly Standard’s John McCormack in 2010. “You’re not going to have a truce.”

Indeed, Ryan exemplifies a strange sort of ideological hybrid that now dominates the GOP. On economic issues, he’s a hardcore libertarian who once said, “[T]he reason I got involved in public service, by and large, if I had to credit one thinker…it would be Ayn Rand. And the fight we are in here, make no mistake about it, is a fight of individualism versus collectivism.” Yet when it comes to women’s control of their bodies, he quickly turns into a statist. “In the state of nature—the ‘law of the jungle’—the determination of who ‘qualifies’ as a human being is left to private individuals or chosen groups,” he wrote in a 2010 essay titled “The Cause of Life Can’t Be Severed From the Cause of Freedom.” “In a justly organized community, however, government exists to secure the right to life and the other human rights that follow from that primary right.”

For anyone who wants to know how Ryan thinks, that essay is worth reading. It’s about 1,500 words long, but the word “woman” doesn’t appear in it once. Nor does the word “mother.” To him, a woman’s claim to bodily autonomy or self-determination doesn’t merit even cursory consideration. Here’s his analogy: “The car which I exercised my freedom of choice to purchase…does not ‘qualify’ for protection of human rights. I can drive it, lend it, kick it, sell it, or junk it, at will. On the other hand, the widow who lives next door does ‘qualify’ as a person, and the government must secure her human rights, which cannot be abandoned to anyone’s arbitrary will.”

Ryan said he has never specifically advocated jailing women who have abortions, but according to a newspaper article, he said, “If it’s illegal, it’s illegal.”

This disregard for the exigencies of women’s lives—the dismissal of their choices as amoral exercises of “arbitrary will”—was thrown into high relief during his 1998 run for congress against Democrat Lydia Spottswood. Both candidates backed a ban on so-called partial-birth abortion, but Spottswood believed there should be exceptions in cases where a woman’s life or health is endangered. “Ryan said he opposes abortion, period,” reported the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “He said any exceptions to a ‘partial-birth’ abortion ban would make that ban meaningless.”

During that campaign, Ryan also expressed his willingness to let states criminally prosecute women who have abortions. According to another Journal Sentinel article, he “would let states decide what criminal penalties would be attached to abortions. Ryan said he has never specifically advocated jailing women who have abortions or doctors who perform them, but added, ‘If it’s illegal, it’s illegal.’”

Naturally, when Ryan’s selection was announced on Saturday morning, the anti-abortion movement was jubilant. While he made his reputation in the fiscal arena, David French wrote on the religion blog Patheos, “[T]hose of us in the conservative movement have also known Paul Ryan as a man completely committed to the cause of life… a recitation of his legislative record doesn’t do justice to his pro-life commitment.” Now, people outside the conservative movement need to understand that commitment as well.