Dissecting Rep. Tim Ryan’s betrayal of the preborn

One of the biggest surprises in store for anyone new to politics is how many prominent Democrats began their careers as ardent pro-lifers before throwing preborn babies to the wolves in exchange for career advancement.

The latest to join their ranks is Ohio congressman Tim Ryan, who announced on January 27 that he has officially changed from “pro-life” to “pro-choice.” And, predictably, partisans for his new position are slobbering all over him:

  • Planned Parenthood, perhaps trying to pre-emptively counter the stench of opportunism that really motivated Ryan, gushed about the “honesty,” his “courage,” and the “heartfelt” nature of his “evolution.”
  • At Reason, Elizabeth Nolan Brown says, “Good for Ryan for coming to this realization where it concerns reproductive freedom; let’s hope he’s equally keen on trusting people, not politicians, to make decisions in other areas as well.”
  • Salon’s Katie McDonough hailed it as a victory for “thinking about women as real people whose lives matter,” a heroic display of “humility” and “simple respect” Republicans should learn from.
  • Caitlin Moscatello of Glamour Magazine writes that Ryan’s “honestly is refreshing not just for its self-awareness but its message that lawmakers, like the rest of us, do not have to hold a specific position just for the sake of looking undeterred.”
  • To the possibility that Ryan’s switch was politically calculated, RH Reality Check’s Imani Gandy asked, “[W]ho’s to say that political ambitions can’t coincide with an actual change of heart?” (If only RHRC ever gave pro-lifers’ motives that much benefit of the doubt!)

While we may not be able to peer into a man’s heart, there are some pretty simple ways to evaluate the substance of a political conversion. Mitt Romney, for example, became pro-life after he sat down with Stanford biomedical ethics professor William Hurlbut to learn more about embryonic science, convincing him that life beginning at conception was more than a religious belief.

Does Ryan’s mea culpa contain any comparable re-evaluations of the debate’s key questions? Does he offer any reason to conclude that fetuses aren’t alive after all? Does he dig into the science at a deeper level, give any consideration for prenatal rights, or explain why the mother’s right to kill them ultimately wins out? Not even close.

It’s not thoughtful. It’s not substantive. It’s not deep. It’s not nuanced. At no point does Ryan’s column mention the preborn as entities due any consideration. He doesn’t address any pro-life arguments. Reading it, you wouldn’t know if he’s even familiar with the thinking behind the stance he supposedly once held, other than that he, “being raised in a Catholic household, always considered myself pro-life.” So, Tim, all those years as a “pro-lifer,” and secular reasons to oppose abortion never occurred to you? Taken at face value, this would make Ryan pretty much the least thoughtful pro-life politician ever, yet changing his mind is supposed to impress us?

His sole argument, if you can call it that, is laying on the “women’s experiences” boilerplate as thick as he can. Give the guy this much credit, at least: he knows what his new audience will unquestioningly lap up:

Each of these women lived through difficult and personal situations with few options and no clear path to take. This is why there is no easy answer.

These women gave me a better understanding of how complex and difficult certain situations can become. And while there are people of good conscience on both sides of this argument, one thing has become abundantly clear to me: the heavy hand of government must not make this decision for women and families.

As my friend and colleague U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro says, “Nobody celebrates abortion.” No woman makes this decision lightly. Each and every American deserves the right to deal with these difficult situations in consultation with their families, close friends or religious advisers. No federal or state law banning abortion can honestly and fairly take into account the various circumstances that make each decision unique.

First, if the fate of legal abortion is to be decided solely by women’s testimony, then I can think of a few million ladies  including scores who’ve experienced pregnancies of all kinds and dealt with abortion both as a seeker and as its target — whose perspectives you are certainly not representing.

Second, the circumstances driving anyone to kill anyone else are often as varied as those driving abortion seekers. But the law doesn’t care whether someone thinks really, really hard about it before pulling the trigger. It cares only whether the use of lethal force is justified by a proportionate physical danger. And “honestly and fairly taking into account” that question is what the law does every day. It’s the purpose of having law in the first place.

But perhaps most disturbing is this passage near the end:

On June 12, 2014, my wife and I were blessed when our son, Brady Zetts Ryan, came into the world. With the birth of this healthy baby boy, our lives were forever changed. I’m mindful that my wife and I were fortunate enough to bring Brady into a prepared family full of love and devotion.

While I wish that for every child and every family, I know it is not always the case. Some couples are unprepared to become parents at that moment, and some families who are looking forward to a child may experience complications during the pregnancy. All these circumstances — and many more — require tough decisions. There are too many scenarios, too many variables and too much complexity for pregnancy to be anything but a personal decision.

Today, I am a 41-year-old father and husband whose feelings on this issue have changed. 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.

So let’s get this straight: following and anticipating a son’s development, seeing him born, holding him in your arms…”deepened” your perspective toward thinking children like him are less deserving of protection? Coming from a view in which you supposedly already understood how precious he was?

Of course, it’s to be expected that Ryan didn’t really think this through, because he was never all that pro-life to begin with. The National Right to Life Committee and even Democrats for Life have been calling him a phony for years, citing a mixed record that involves more than a few votes against the preborn during critical debates and a claim that figuring out when life beings was “above my pay grade.” Sound familiar?

If you really believe that the right to abort trumps the right to live, then okay, we can have that argument. Make your case, and pro-lifers will respond. Tim Ryan’s column fails to meet even the bare minimum for a pro-choice case. It’s really nothing more than a lazy bit of political theater, meant to provide just enough cover to cast off a political disguise that had outlived its usefulness.

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