Despite his seemingly robotic demeanor, Mitt Romney is proving himself a bit of a rogue. His campaign has broken the cardinal rule of presidential races: pander and pivot. First the candidate secures the base during the primaries by pandering to party ideologues; then the candidate swiftly pivots to the center to attract swing voters and independents. Eric Fehrnstrom’s infamous Etch A Sketch comment back in March suggested that Romney was preparing to execute this venerable campaign two-step. But the choice of Paul Ryan as running mate obliterates the possibility of moderation. This campaign is going to run hard and fast to the right. Forget the pivot; they’re just going to pander.
Unlike Romney’s inconsistent but mostly centrist Massachusetts governing record, whose signature accomplishment was the model for the GOP-maligned “Obamacare,” Ryan’s ideological bona fides are unvarnished. And don’t be fooled: this is not about economics alone. Ryan is just as devoted to good old-fashioned moral conservatism, government small enough to fit on a vaginal probe. Ryan may have slipped his playbook into an Ayn Rand cover, but it was co-written by Ralph Reed.
Nowhere is this more apparent, or more important, than in Ryan’s record on reproductive rights. Romney may have flippantly suggested that he would eliminate Planned Parenthood, but Ryan has worked consistently to restrict women’s access to healthcare. It’s not just his fifty-nine votes to block or limit reproductive rights that are of concern; it’s the absolutist nature of his positions. He rejects rape and incest as mitigating circumstances for abortion. He won’t even consider the possibility that women’s moral autonomy or constitutional rights are sufficient reasons for access.
Ryan is one of sixty-four Congressional co-sponsors of HR 212, a “personhood” bill that gives legal rights to fertilized eggs. Last November a similar measure was soundly defeated by 57 percent of voters in that liberal bastion, Mississippi. (Mississippi!) Ryan co-sponsored a bill too extreme for a state that has only one abortion clinic, a state whose policies have effectively made it impossible for most doctors to perform—or for most women to access—an abortion. It may be time to update the title of Nina Simone’s iconic song from “Mississippi Goddam” to “Paul Ryan Goddam.” Ryan’s role in HR 212 isn’t just the symbolic co-sponsorship of a bill with little likelihood of passage. He explicitly articulated his case for personhood in a 2010 Heritage Foundation article, in which he parrots the familiar conservative case that America’s failure to recognize fetuses as persons is the same as our nation’s historical failure to recognize the humanity of enslaved black people. Therefore, Roe v. Wade is the twentieth-century equivalent of the 1857 Dred Scott decision.
With Ryan and women’s health, there is no middle ground; there is only his moral judgment. And despite his avowed libertarianism on economic issues, on women’s health and rights Ryan is willing to use the full force of government to limit the freedom of dissenting citizens to exercise their opposing judgments.