As a U.S. House member from Wisconsin, Republican vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan has co-sponsored 38 anti-abortion measures, including some that make no allowance for rape.
Ryan’s level of support outdoes that of his House colleague Todd Akin, who is under pressure from party leaders to step down as the Republican Senate nominee in Missouri after saying that “legitimate rape” rarely leads to pregnancy.
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney yesterday called on Akin to quit the race, and campaign spokeswoman Amanda Henneberg said Aug. 20 that “a Romney-Ryan administration would not oppose abortion in instances of rape.”
Ryan’s co-sponsorships include bills that would restrict government funding and declare that states have the right to protect life beginning at fertilization.
Though their records are similar, Ryan hasn’t been out front on the issue the way Akin has, said Tom McClusky, a senior vice president at the Washington-based Family Research Council Action, the political arm of the group that opposes abortion and same-sex marriage.
“He’s co-sponsored a lot of great bills but he hasn’t introduced one,” McClusky said in a telephone interview. “Akin is someone you would call a pro-life leader, so that’s where your difference would be. He’s introduced bills.”
Since voters in Wisconsin’s 1st District, south of Milwaukee, first elected him in 1998, Ryan hasn’t voted against any bills backed by the National Right to Life Committee. The group gives him a lifetime voting score of 100 percent.
The group scored Akin at 90 percent support during one of his six terms and at 100 percent for the rest of his tenure. Akin co-sponsored every abortion bill supported by Ryan in the almost 12 years the two Republicans have served together in Washington.
Ryan hasn’t written any abortion-related bills during his time in Congress, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
“He’s certainly a reliable pro-life vote,” Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Chicago-based Pro-Life Action League, said in a telephone interview. “Everyone in the pro-life movement is really excited about Paul Ryan’s vice presidential candidacy. We can expect a Romney administration to reverse many of the anti-life, pro-abortion policies that have been implemented by President Obama.”
Advocates on the other side of the issue have counted 59 votes that Ryan has cast on abortion and other reproductive rights issues during his 13 years in the House. The tally by the abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America includes votes on procedural motions and amendments, neither of which have cosponsors.
The group classifies all 59 votes as “anti-choice.”
Among the bills Ryan co-sponsored was a measure that would require a woman seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound first. As chairman of the House Budget Committee, he drafted a budget blueprint that sought to end federal dollars for Title X, the national family-planning program.
He also co-sponsored legislation that would have barred abortions after 20 weeks gestation in the District of Columbia, with no exception for cases of rape or incest.
Two bills that he co-sponsored last year would have restricted the definition of rape. The measures sought to prohibit federal funds from being used for abortion, except under certain conditions, with both bills as introduced using the term “forcible rape” as an exception to the funding ban.
While the legislation didn’t explain the difference between rape and forcible rape, the word “forcible” was removed from each bill in committee by amendments from Republicans following criticism from Democratic lawmakers and reproductive-rights groups. Ryan and Akin signed on to the bills before the language was changed.
Republican lawmakers and officials this week have urged Akin to quit the U.S. Senate race in Missouri after Aug. 19 remarks in which he said abortion shouldn’t be allowed in rape cases, in part because pregnancy was unlikely to result.
“From what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare,” Akin, who has served in the House since 2001, said in an interview that aired on a Fox affiliate in St. Louis. “If it’s legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”
Akin later apologized, said that he meant to say “forcible rape,” and said that pregnancy can result from rape. He has resisted pressure from Romney and party elders to drop out of the Senate race.
Akin’s remarks gave Democrats an opening to portray their party as favorable toward women. “What I think these comments do underscore is why we shouldn’t have a bunch of politicians, a majority of whom are men, making health-care decisions on behalf of women,” President Barack Obama said yesterday during a rare appearance in the White House press briefing room.
Obama enjoys a more than 2-1 voter advantage on issues of concern to women, according to an Aug. 16-20 NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. Fifty-two percent of registered voters surveyed said Obama would be better on women’s issues, compared with 24 percent for Romney. Among the 1,000 voters surveyed, 52 percent were women and 48 percent men.
The Republican Party’s position on abortion hasn’t changed.
Platform drafters yesterday reaffirmed the party’s support for a constitutional amendment banning abortions with no exceptions. The plank calling for the constitutional amendment banning abortions in all circumstances, including pregnancies caused by rape and when the life of the woman is at risk, is the same as in the party’s 2004 and 2008 platforms.