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Tuesday, January 27, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 24.0° F  Fog/Mist
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Paul Ryan's deep anti-choice roots
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Paul Ryan gives a 'send off' speech at Janesville Craig High School in Janesville, Wisconsin on Monday, August 27, before he leaves for the Republican National Convention in Tampa Bay, Florida.
Paul Ryan gives a 'send off' speech at Janesville Craig High School in Janesville, Wisconsin on Monday, August 27, before he leaves for the Republican National Convention in Tampa Bay, Florida.
Credit:Lukas Keapproth/Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism

Paul Ryan's views are just as extreme as Todd Akin's. Before he became famous for his budget plan, Ryan began his political career as a creature of Wisconsin's pro-life movement.

When he first ran for Congress from Janesville, Wisconsin, in 1998, Paul Ryan sought the endorsement of the Wisconsin Right to Life PAC. Barbara Lyons, Wisconsin Right To Life's executive director, remembers the young Ryan's candidate interview fondly. The "fervently pro-life" 28-year-old was full of energy, but seemed awfully green as a candidate for Congress, she noted in a letter to her membership recently.

Thirteen years later, "Ryan has been a wonderful friend to our organization," Lyons says. In all his years in Congress, she notes, he has not changed his views one bit.

The seven-term Congressman has never cast a vote against the National Right to Life position in his years in the House, earning a 100% approval rating from anti-choice groups.

No wonder Ryan has appeared regularly as a featured speaker at Wisconsin Right to Life events.

Like his fellow Republican stars from Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker and national party chairman Reince Priebus, Ryan got early backing from the state's energetic, grassroots anti-abortion movement.

Even among abortion opponents, Paul Ryan's views are extreme.

Ryan opposed a "life of the mother" exception in "partial-birth" abortion cases. Along with Todd Akin, he pursued legislation to redefine rape as "forcible rape."

Ryan was one of 64 House Republicans to co-sponsor the Sanctity of Human Life Act pushed by the "personhood" movement, which seeks to recognize every fertilized egg as a full person with the same constitutional rights as any other American citizen.

Besides Wisconsin Right to Life, the state's more extreme group, Prolife Wisconsin, has embraced Ryan.

This is where Paul Ryan and U.S. Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri, who is now running for a Senate seat against Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill, have a lot in common.

Ryan, despite the press releases saying that the Romney-Ryan ticket does not oppose abortion even in cases of rape and incest, has opposed those exceptions as a member of Congress. Also, despite distancing himself from Todd Akin's controversial assertion that women who are raped are somehow too scared to get pregnant, Ryan co-sponsored a bill with Akin that would redefine rape, providing federal assistance only to victims of "forcible rape."

Personhood USA, the group that has lobbied to outlaw not just abortion but birth control pills, the IUD, and in-vitro fertilization, was delighted when Mitt Romney chose Paul Ryan as his running mate.

While Romney was the only Republican presidential candidate who turned down all three of Personhood USA's debate invitations, Paul Ryan has been an advocate for the group's legislative goals in Congress.

The lingo Ryan uses show that he and Akin come out of the same extreme anti-choice-movement background.

Ryan invokes foundational ideas of the Personhood movement that sound odd to people who aren't part of that group. In speeches and at least one written opinion piece, he has compared Roe v. Wade to the Supreme Court's 1857 Dred Scott decision, holding that African American slaves were not full human beings.

Abortion, and forms of birth control that deny fetuses' humanity are, in this view, akin to slavery.

As the Republican convention begins this week, the Romney campaign will be doing a delicate dance, trying to hold together the party's fragile coalition of the low-tax, anti-government right-wingers with the anti-abortion, religious fundamentalists.

Ryan, who is generally associated with the first group, owes his political career to the second. With a foot in each camp, he may find himself right in the center of a political storm that could damage his party, even after Isaac blows over.


Ruth Conniff is the political editor of The Progressive and a contributor to Isthmus. She is in Tampa covering the Republican National Convention.

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