Though most of the political squabbling over vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan will concern his controversial fiscal policies, the fact that the Wisconsin congressman is also staunchly pro-life guarantees he’ll be targeted with a secondary narrative about being an anti-choice extremist.
Sure enough, the Daily Beast’s Michelle Goldberg has already deployed one of the first efforts on that front:
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.
“Extreme” in the narrow, strategic sense of how far from majority opinion these views are? Maybe. But extreme in the sense of being far removed from reason and justice? Not at all. If the unborn are live humans with unalienable rights, then they don’t automatically become something else just because of a pregnancy’s circumstances or the specific technique that endangers them. Ryan’s views are consistent, not crazy.
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.”
I don’t know if Goldberg really doesn’t understand the philosophical labels she’s juggling or simply expects her readers not to, but this alleged contradiction is a complete fabrication. It’s almost surreal – not only does she not bother to explain what’s inconsistent, but Ryan’s explanation – “government exists to secure the right to life and the other human rights that follow from that primary right” – is right there in the very line she’s quoting!
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.”
Yes, how dare Ryan speak in gender-neutral terms (apparently “widow” and “her human rights” don’t count) while discussing a right possessed by males and females equally! It’s true that Ryan’s essay doesn’t address abortion apologists’ new favorite rationalization for murder, the bodily autonomy argument, but that doesn’t invalidate his observations about the status of the unborn and his critique of pro-choicers like Goldberg who sidestep it, which is a far more glaring omission for the simple fact that if the unborn weren’t alive or human after all, there would be no abortion controversy.
Next, Goldberg highlights Ryan’s opposition to exceptions for partial-birth abortion: “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.” But here again, Ryan is correct – seemingly “moderate” pro-choice accommodations such as health exceptions tend to define “health” so broadly that it can mean almost anything.
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.’”
Here we see one of the key reasons American politics remains so bitter and understanding seems so unreachable: liberals simply don’t understand conservatives and refuse to consider the possibility that there might be some kernel of sincerity or insight behind our beliefs. To Goldberg, leaving abortion punishment to the states make Ryan extreme because she can’t fathom that there’s anything worthwhile about federalism that he might really believe in, such as the wisdom of limiting the federal government to a narrow range of defined purposes, or the fact that federalism actually makes national politics less extreme by deferring society’s most heated issues to state and local control, so Alabama doesn’t have to live by California’s values (or vice-versa), and people can escape the effects of one state’s decisions by moving to another.