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Posted by on Aug 16, 2012 in Politics | 4 comments

Ryan and Women’s Issues: They Don’t Mix

birth control pillsOn Saturday, I looked at the record of Paul Ryan, the House Budget Chair. I’d call that picture mixed; others might call it flip-floppy.

Ryan’s record on two women’s issues — abortion and contraception — suggests he’s more closely aligned with failed Presidential candidate Rick Santorum than with mainstream America.

1. Abortion

Americans overwhelmingly support the right to have an abortion. Only 20% of Americans believe abortion should always be illegal, according to Gallup. The number has been as low as 13% (in the early 1990s) but is the same today as in 1975, when Gallup began tracking this issue. More Americans (46%) reject the theory of evolution.

Where is Paul Ryan on this issue? Standing right beside Santorum.

Ryan, who has publicly opposed abortion even in the case of rape or incest has said that “I’m as pro-life as a person gets.” He holds a 100% rating National Right to Life Committee.

When he first ran for Congress in 1988 (emphasis added):

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.”

Those beliefs are reflected in legislation that he has co-sponsored as a U.S. Representative. (In his 14 years in Congress, Ryan has sponsored only 62 bills; six of them have come up for a vote. Two have been signed into law.)

Ryan co-sponsored HR 212 which would have defined life as beginning at conception, effectively banning all abortions. From the bill text:

The life of each human being begins with fertilization, cloning, or its functional equivalent, irrespective of sex, health, function or disability, defect, stage of biological development, or condition of dependency, at which time every human being shall have all the legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood

This is the personhood movement. From CBS:

Supporters of reproductive rights have loudly pointed out that this type of legislation would not only outlaw abortion but potentially some forms of contraception or even in vitro fertilization. Personhood initiatives are so extreme that even card-carrying conservatives like former Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour have expressed concerns that they go too far, and the National Right to Life has refrained from taking an official position on the matter.

Mississippi voters overwhelmingly rejected a similar bill last November.

Ryan also co-sponsored HR 358 (it passed the House) which would have:

[Amended] the new health care law so that no federal money could be applied to health insurance plans that cover elective abortions, even if the abortion coverage is paid for entirely with private funds. It also states that a federal agency can not force a health care provider that accepts Medicare or Medicaid to provide abortion services, even in cases when the mother’s life is endangered.

Finally, Ryan “[r]epeatedly voted to deny women in the military … the right to use their own, private funds for abortion care at military hospitals.”

According to the Guttmacher Institute, during the 1970s “public funding of abortion at military facilities was available, albeit with some limitations, for military personnel and their dependents.”

In Fiscal Year 1979, the Department of Defense appropriations bill banned federal funding of abortion services. An informal, private funds “pre-pay” system existed until 1988, when the Reagan Administration ended it without Congressional oversight. In 1993, President Clinton issued an executive order that removed the ban on privately-paid abortions in military hospitals.

Clinton’s order settled the issue until 1995, when Congress—under the newly installed leadership of antiabortion Republicans—imposed a statutory ban on the performance of abortions in military hospitals, even when paid for with private funds. Under the ban, a woman could pay for an abortion at military facilities using her own funds only in cases of rape, incest or life endangerment. (In practice, abortions in the case of life endangerment should be funded by the DOD.)

As Feministing noted earlier this year, this prohibition on abortion services flies in the face of documented cases of sexual assault on base. The Pentagon estimated 19,000 cases last year.

Vice presidential picks aren’t made in a vacuum. What about the presumptive GOP presidential nominee? According to PolitiFact, even before his choice of running mate, Romney had done a complete flip-flop on this issue.

In a debate during his 1994 race against Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy, Romney said, “I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country.”


In his 2002 campaign for governor, Romney said during a debate, “I will preserve and protect a woman’s right to choose and am devoted and dedicated to honoring my word in that regard.”


What about Romney’s views today? Romney wrote a June 18, 2011, op-ed in the conservative National Review that lays out his abortion views in detail.

“I am pro-life and believe that abortion should be limited to only instances of rape, incest, or to save the life of the mother. I support the reversal of Roe v. Wade, because it is bad law and bad medicine…

Moving on to the other half of this equation, prevention.

2. Contraception

Most Americans believe that contraception should be covered by most employer-sponsored health plans (margin of error: +/- 3.5%):

Roughly 6-in-10 Americans say that publicly held corporations (62%) and religiously affiliated hospitals (57%) should be required to provide employees with health care plans that cover contraception.


White evangelical Protestants are the only religious group that opposes requiring any type of employer to provide their employees with no cost contraception coverage.

Moreover, 77% believe that birth control “should not be part of the national political debate” (March 2012, +/- 3.1%).

Where is Paul Ryan on this issue? Closer to Santorum than the average American.

Ryan called the federal health care bill contraceptive mandate an “affront to religious liberty.” When the Obama Administration responded to criticism over contraceptive coverage, Ryan called the compromise “an accounting gimmick or fig leaf.” The compromise would require “insurance companies, instead of religious hospitals or universities” to provide contraception and was supported by both Planned Parenthood and the Catholic Health Organization.


What are we talking about here?

In a nutshell, sex and self-determination.

And the organization that is at the center of these two issues — abortion and contraception — is Planned Parenthood. Ryan has voted to de-fund Planned Parenthood at least four times.

But most Americans do not want to defund Planned Parenthood. From February 2012 (margin of error +/- 3.8%):

As you may know, last year the House of Representatives voted to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides a variety of health care services to women such as birth control and breast cancer screening. Some Planned Parenthood clinics perform abortions, though not using federal funds. Do you think Congress should cut off funding for Planned Parenthood, or not?

Should not: 69%

That mirrors polling results from 2011 as well.

So there you have it: when you look at the Republican presidential ticket, you’ll see political positions that push women back in time. When it comes to Vice Presidential pick Paul Ryan and two important issues related to women’s health care, Ryan stands with an extremely small group of Americans, not the mainstream.

That makes your vote in November truly a choice.


Photo by Susan Montgomery via

Edit 9.39 pm Pacific – moved an errant paragraph and added Mississippi vote.