Congressman Tim Ryan, a Democrat from Ohio, announced in an op-ed today that he's changed his previously anti-abortion stance, writing, "Each and every American deserves the right to deal with these difficult situations in consultation with their families, close friends or religious advisers," and that pregnancy is "a personal decision." Yep. Only took him over a decade in office to figure it out, too.
Ryan, who's served in Congress since 2003, has voted many, many times for bills that make abortion more difficult, including parental notification laws, the so-called for the Unborn Child Pain Awareness Act, and a ban on abortion procedures in federally-funded military hospitals. He's also voted consistently against human cloning.
But in 2009, Ryan was kicked off the board of the Democrats for Life of America after a disagreement over a bill he sponsored to prevent unintended pregnancies with better sex ed and contraception (a bill that he'd actually sponsored various version of since 2006). At the time, he implied that the Democrats for Life were unhappy about the birth control bit, saying, ""I can't figure out for the life of me how to stop pregnancies without contraception. Don't be mad at me for wanting to solve the problem." He's been considered suspect by anti-abortion outlets like Life News since then, who wrote that he was "digging his own grave" politically. He released an editorial that year reiterating that he was anti-abortion.
In 2013, though, Ryan refused to support a 20-week abortion ban, recommending that Congress think about focusing on jobs and the economy. And today he writes in an Akron-Beacon Journal editorial that his change of heart comes largely from talking to people who've had unplanned and unwanted pregnancies:
I have sat with women from Ohio and across the nation and heard them talk about their varying experiences: abusive relationships, financial hardship, health scares, rape and incest. There are endless stories about women in troubling situations — the woman who became pregnant and has a violent spouse; the woman who lost her job and is unable to afford another child; or the underage girl worried she'll be thrown out of her house if she reveals her pregnancy.
These are just a few of the many stories I have heard. 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.
The Planned Parenthood Action Fund released a statement commending Ryan; PP President Cecile Richards is quoted as saying, in part, "Congressman Ryan joins the overwhelming majority of Americans who want women to have access to abortion and don't want politicians to interfere in women's personal medical decisions. We thank Congressman Ryan for standing with women across Ohio and around the nation, and we look forward to working with him."
Ryan, right, being sworn in for his new term, January 6, 2015. Image via AP