Paul Ryan’s “Reason and Science” Arguments Against AbortionPosted: October 12, 2012
During last night’s vice presidential debate, moderator Martha Raddatz asked an infuriatingly simple-minded question, and she got an embarrassingly simple-minded response from Republican candidate Paul Ryan. The question:
“We have two Catholic candidates, first time on a stage such as this, and I would like to ask you both to tell me what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion,” she said. “Please talk about how you came to that decision. Talk about how your religion played a part in that.”
Frankly, I couldn’t care less what either candidate’s personal views on abortion are, much less how their religious beliefs inform those views. But I’m glad Raddatz at least asked one question about women’s reproductive rights, even if she asked it stupidly. Here’s Ryan’s response:
RYAN: Now, you want to ask basically why I’m pro-life? It’s not simply because of my Catholic faith. That’s a factor, of course. But it’s also because of reason and science.
You know, I think about 10 1/2 years ago, my wife Janna and I went to Mercy Hospital in Janesville where I was born, for our seven week ultrasound for our firstborn child, and we saw that heartbeat. A little baby was in the shape of a bean. And to this day, we have nicknamed our firstborn child Liza, “Bean.” Now I believe that life begins at conception.
That’s why — those are the reasons why I’m pro-life. Now I understand this is a difficult issue, and I respect people who don’t agree with me on this, but the policy of a Romney administration will be to oppose abortions with the exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.
Can anyone point to either reason or science in that response? He’s telling millions of American women that he will work to deny their rights to control their bodies and plan their lives because he and his wife were thrilled by an ultrasound image of something that “was in the shape of a bean” and had a heartbeat. Sorry, that’s not science and it’s not reason. It’s sentimentality about a personal experience, not a justification for using the legal system to deny other people the right to personal autonomy.
And let’s not forget that, while Ryan is spouting the Romney line (until the next shake of the Etch-a-Sketch) that there should be exceptions for “rape, incest, and the life of the mother,” Ryan himself believes there should be no exceptions, because he sees rape and incest as just alternative “methods of conception.”
When Joe Biden noted that Ryan personally supports making abortion a crime with no exceptions, Ryan responded:
RYAN: All I’m saying is, if you believe that life begins at conception, that, therefore, doesn’t change the definition of life. That’s a principle. The policy of a Romney administration is to oppose abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother.
At least he’s consistent. I’m convinced that most of these “pro-life” right wingers actually agree with Ryan on that. At least he has the guts to come out and say it, although the Romney people must have been freaking out about it.
Then Raddatz asked another question:
RADDATZ: I want to go back to the abortion question here. If the Romney-Ryan ticket is elected, should those who believe that abortion should remain legal be worried?
You can’t see it in the transcript, but there was a long pregnant pause (no pun intended) before Ryan figured out what to say next. That pause should tell any woman watching that a Romney/Ryan administration would be a danger to her health and freedom.
RYAN: We don’t think that unelected judges should make this decision; that people through their elected representatives in reaching a consensus in society through the democratic process should make this determination.
Now how could it happen that “unelected judges” could have no say about anti-abortion legislation? Surely Ryan knows that any piece of legislation is subject to review by the courts, and ultimately the Supreme Court. There is only one way judges would not be able to review anti-abortion legislation, and that is if there were an amendment to the Constitution banning abortion. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan have both endorsed the notion of a “personhood” amendment to the Constitution, and Ryan has actually sponsored a number of such initiatives.
Finally, as Amanda Marcotte notes at Slate, Ryan even managed to bring it up during his abortion response, although Raddatz didn’t ask about it:
RYAN: What troubles me more is how this administration has handled all of these issues. Look at what they’re doing through Obamacare with respect to assaulting the religious liberties of this country. They’re infringing upon our first freedom, the freedom of religion, by infringing on Catholic charities, Catholic churches, Catholic hospitals.
The only remarkable thing about the exchange is that contraception is now such an important target for the anti-choicers that Ryan brought the subject up, even though Raddatz didn’t ask about it, pivoting quickly from abortion to talk about the Catholic Church’s issue with contraception: “Look at what they’re doing through Obamacare with respect to assaulting the religious liberties of this country. They’re infringing upon our first freedom, the freedom of religion, by infringing on Catholic charities, Catholic churches, Catholic hospitals.” As with abortion, Ryan’s religion teaches that contraception is wrong, though, when pressed, he wasn’t as eager to suggest that what is taught in the pews should be enforced by the law. Instead, he spoke of “religious liberty,” by which he means giving the employer the right to deny an employee insurance benefits she has paid for because he thinks Jesus disapproves of sex for pleasure instead of procreation.
Ryan and Romney may be reticent now, but we know based on their past behavior that both of these men treat women as breeders–receptacles for incubating embryos and fetuses. As a Mormon leader, Romney even tried to convince a woman whose doctor had told her she would probably die if she carried her pregnancy to term that she should give birth anyway. From the book The Real Romney, by Michael Kranish and Scott Helman:
In the fall of 1990, Exponent II published in its journal an unsigned essay by a married woman who, having already borne five children, had found herself some years earlier facing an unplanned sixth pregnancy. She couldn’t bear the thought of another child and was contemplating abortion. But the Mormon Church makes few exceptions to permit women to end a pregnancy. Church leaders have said that abortion can be justified in cases of rape or incest, when the health of the mother is seriously threatened, or when the fetus will surely not survive beyond birth. And even those circumstances “do not automatically justify an abortion,” according to church policy.
Then the woman’s doctors discovered she had a serious blood clot in her pelvis. She thought initially that would be her way out—of course she would have to get an abortion. But the doctors, she said, ultimately told her that, with some risk to her life, she might be able to deliver a full-term baby, whose chance of survival they put at 50 percent. One day in the hospital, her bishop—later identified as Romney, though she did not name him in the piece—paid her a visit. He told her about his nephew who had Down syndrome and what a blessing it had turned out to be for their family. “As your bishop,” she said he told her, “my concern is with the child.” The woman wrote, “Here I—a baptized, endowed, dedicated worker, and tithe-payer in the church—lay helpless, hurt, and frightened, trying to maintain my psychological equilibrium, and his concern was for the eight-week possibility in my uterus—not for me!”
….The woman told Romney, she wrote, that her stake president, a doctor, had already told her, “Of course, you should have this abortion and then recover from the blood clot and take care of the healthy children you already have.” Romney, she said, fired back, “I don’t believe you. He wouldn’t say that. I’m going to call him.” And then he left. The woman said that she went on to have the abortion and never regretted it. “What I do feel bad about,” she wrote, “is that at a time when I would have appreciated nurturing and support from spiritual leaders and friends, I got judgment, criticism, prejudicial advice, and rejection.”
Personally I have never heard or read about either of these men expressing even the slightest concern for a woman who must choose between the life she has planned for herself–perhaps education and a career, or simply the freedom to choose whether to have children at all–and devoting the next 20 years of her life to raising a child. I’ve never even seen any evidence that Ryan or Romney has any understanding of the horror of rape or incest or the struggle to choose whether to risk one’s life to bear a child.
Furthermore, their attitudes toward women and reproductive rights are not based on anything resembling reason or science. Their beliefs are based on religion and outmoded and offensive views of women as objects with little autonomy–at best they see women as second class citizens who are unable to make rational, moral decisions and at worse they see women as the property of men with no right to freedom of choice.