Right after Paul Ryan was named as Mitt Romney’s VP, I did what every other political blogger in the world did: wrote an article almost entirely about his economic policies. Of course I did and we did. In minds of politics-watchers everywhere, Ryan means the Ryan budget, with its strange combination of bold detail and cowardly vagueness. Just mentioning Ryan’s name launches an argument about taxes and Medicare and long-term deficits.
But a day or two later, I felt a wave of deja vu. Isn’t this exactly what happened in 2009 and 2010?
The Tea Party. Remember? The Tea Party burst onto the scene in April, 2009, billing itself as a non-partisan, grass-roots movement of people fed up with taxes and deficits. Taxed Enough Already — remember? The culture wars could wait; the problems of debt and government spending were too urgent.
An occasional liberal Jeremiah tried to warn us how phony this framing was, but for the most part we let them get away with it.
And then what happened? As soon as the election was over and Republicans (so much for non-partisan) controlled the House in D.C. and the entire state government in places like Wisconsin and Florida, their first priorities turned out to be abortion and all the other “values” issues they had swept under the rug during the campaign.
As the new Congress was settling in, Rep. Mike Pence segued like this:
Our economy is struggling and our national government is awash in a sea of debt. Amidst these struggles, some would have us focus our energies on jobs and spending. … I agree. Let’s start by denying all federal funding for abortion at home and abroad. The largest abortion provider in America should not also be the largest recipient of federal funding under Title X. The time has come to deny any and all federal funding to Planned Parenthood of America.
Annual Planned Parenthood funding under Title X was about $70 million. Take that, trillion-dollar deficit!
Rachel Maddow was one of the early major-media people to sound the alarm, in a series of segments she labelled Really, Really Big Government.
That is the message they campaigned on in November—freedom, liberty, letting people do what they want!
And then they arrived in Washington and immediately started working on putting government in charge of every single pregnancy in America. Even as they slowed the legislative calendar way down, stopped doing much of anything else, they advanced not one, not two, but three super radical bills to restrict abortion rights.
Ryan’s Role. Paul Ryan was co-sponsoring every one of the Religious Right’s “super radical bills”. The National Right to Life Committee says:
Ryan has maintained a 100 percent pro-life voting record on all roll call votes scored by National Right to Life through his entire tenure in the House, which began in 1999.
It’s important to understand just how radical the recent stuff is, because we’re used to the abortion struggle taking place on a fairly small battlefield — Medicaid funding, late-term abortions, parental notification — where the issues really are debatable. But since the Tea Party came into power, we’ve been fighting over issues that used to be on the fringe or completely off the table.
Forced ultrasounds. The general public didn’t catch on to the changing battlelines until women protested the Virginia forced transvaginal ultrasound law this March: In the original version of the bill, women seeking an abortion would be forced to have an ultrasound probe shoved up their vaginas. (Texas already started enforcing a similar law in February.) The legislature had no medical justification; they just figured women who want to abort are too dumb to understand what a fetus is unless the government forces them to look. Or maybe the point is to humiliate women before granting them their constitutional rights.
Maddow and others began calling Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell “Governor Ultrasound” — a nickname that probably pushed him off Romney’s VP short list.
Well, Paul Ryan is Congressman Ultrasound. He co-sponsored the federal Ultrasound Informed Consent Act. Women would be forced to submit to and pay for a medically unnecessary procedure because Paul Ryan believes they’re “uninformed”. (I wonder how he’d feel about making anybody who wants to buy a gun observe the autopsy of a gunshot victim. Don’t they deserve to be “informed” too?)
Rights for single-celled organisms. Another radical addition to the abortion debate are “personhood” laws, which define a fertilized ovum as a human being deserving the full protection of the laws.
Such a law would not only outlaw all abortions, it would also ban any form of birth control that works by interfering with the zygote’s ability to implant in the uterus — like the Pill.
The birth control pill, for example, prevents pregnancy in three ways: The pill thickens the cervical mucus to make it more difficult for sperm to reach the egg; it suppresses ovulation by mimicking pregnancy-level hormones in the body, preventing eggs from being released from the ovaries; and finally, as a fail-safe, the pill makes the lining of the uterus inhospitable to any fertilized egg that might slip through. The time between fertilization and implantation (when a pregnancy becomes medically detectable) usually takes about a week.
In public, advocates of personhood bills deny they’d ban the Pill. But among themselves they sound more like this:
A justly written personhood amendment should ultimately outlaw all abortions including both the intentionally induced “miscarriages” of the hormonal birth control pill and the blatant infanticide of the partial birth abortion.
Personhood laws would also outlaw in vitro fertilization as currently practiced, because the test-tube zygotes that aren’t implanted must eventually be destroyed. A pro-life article that tries to dispel this “absurdity” actually verifies it:
Couples trying to get pregnant through IVF procedures would have nothing to fear from Personhood legislation unless they consented to the intentional destruction of their embryonic children. [emphasis added]
Who would support such a radical law? Not voters. No personhood referendum has come close to passing, even in Mississippi.
But Paul Ryan is a more radical culture warrior than the average Mississippian. He co-sponsored the Sanctity of Human Life Act, which says:
the Congress declares that … the life of each human being begins with fertilization, cloning, or its functional equivalent, irrespective of sex, health, function or disability, defect, stage of biological development, or condition of dependency, at which time every human being shall have all the legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood
Ryan’s defenders sometimes claim this bill merely empowers states to protect the personhood rights of fertilized ova, but it says what it says. If this passed, how long would it take the Thomas More Society to file a class-action suit against birth-control-pill manufacturers on behalf of zygotes?
Employers’ Rights Trump Workers’ Rights. Ryan voted against the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act that eliminated a hole in the equal-pay-for-women laws.
Ryan also co-sponsored the Religious Freedom Tax Repeal Act of 2012. Motivated by the concerns trumped up against ObamaCare’s contraception mandate — Wheaton College had to stop covering contraception so that it could join the lawsuit against being forced to cover contraception — Ryan’s bill goes way beyond that case, to prevent the government from enforcing any coverage “if an employer with respect to such plan is opposed to such coverage by reason of adherence to a religious belief or moral conviction.”
So the Christian Science Monitor wouldn’t have to cover any cancer treatment beyond prayer. And what if an employer just has a “moral conviction” against spending money on workers?
In his own voice. Finding Ryan’s name in a list of co-sponsors doesn’t tell you much about his level of commitment or the thinking behind it. For that you have to turn to his writings and speeches.
In September, 2010 (when the Tea Party was playing down culture-war issues) Ryan wrote The Cause of Life Can’t Be Severed From the Cause of Freedom, which explains why “freedom” requires forcing women to obey the tenets of Ryan’s religion.
I recommend reading the entire article, because you will learn a lot about how Ryan’s mind works. No actual pregnant women are mentioned or even imagined. His argument is entirely abstract; the lives and situations of real people carry no weight.
What’s more — and this style is very familiar if (like me and Paul Ryan) you read way too much Ayn Rand in high school — all the important ideas are hidden in the framing, so the argument consists entirely of tautologies. (The third and concluding part of Atlas Shrugged is titled “A is A”, as if something important could be deduced from that.)
So how does Ryan defend the absurd idea that zygotes deserve all the rights of fully-developed human beings? He doesn’t; he just labels them “people” and then defends the rights of people. He compares Roe v Wade to Dred Scott — there being no noteworthy differences between black slaves and single-celled organisms — and concludes:
I cannot believe any official or citizen can still defend the notion that an unborn human being has no rights that an older person is bound to respect. I do know that we cannot go on forever feigning agnosticism about who is human.
Zygotes have rights because “I cannot believe” otherwise. And if you claim not to believe it, or not to be certain enough to use government power to force women to bear their rapists’ babies, you are “feigning”. Ryan knows you agree with him deep down; you’re just pretending not to.
That’s how he thinks.
And if he ever ascends to the presidency, or if he becomes the family-values point man in a Romney administration, that’s the level of public debate we can expect.