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A Pro-Lie Democrat?

Ohio congressman Tim Ryan is accused of masquerading as a pro-life Democrat.

12:00 AM, Aug 4, 2009 • By JOHN MCCORMACK
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"No, that's not true at all," says Kristen Day. "He knows very well that we're not opposed to contraception." Day says she explicitly informed Ryan that Democrats for Life (like the National Right to Life Committee) has no formal position on contraceptive funding. Sen. Bob Casey, one of the most prominent pro-life Democrats in Washington, has voted in favor of Title X contraception funding--some of which subsidizes Planned Parenthood--and remains in good standing with the group.

More public funding of contraception is at the center of Ryan's "common ground" abortion bill, "Reducing the Need for Abortion and Supporting Parents Act," but Chris Smith argues that this bill is simply a slush fund for abortion providers, who will use the money to build more clinics. While low-income women already have access to federally-funded contraception, it's certainly possible to increase funding for contraception without paying for health insurance policies that cover abortions. It's also possible to fund contraception without giving that money to groups that perform abortions, but Ryan fought efforts to strip contraception funding from Planned Parenthood--actions for which the largest abortion-provider in America formally honored him.

Ryan says that the NRLC's Douglas Johnson also opposes him because of his support for contraception. According to Ryan, Johnson is "all of a sudden trying to undermine my pro-life record. And he can't get past the fact that I'm pro-life and will continue to be pro-life and say I'm pro-life, vote pro-life." On some matters, Ryan does remain pro-life. For example, he supports maintaining the ban on abortion coverage in insurance policies for federal employees--even though a system that purports to segregate federal funds from private funds, similar to the one he supports in the congressional health care bill, could be employed. "That's a choice we make as federal officials, as we would be technically the employer of the federal employees, millions and millions of people, and that's our choice," Ryan explained to me. "I don't think our federal plan should have abortions in it."

But Ryan's rhetoric on abortion seems almost indistinguishable from your typical pro-choice Democrat at times. "We can still fight about legal and illegal and who wants to put doctors and women in prison and who doesn't," Ryan said, adding that it's more important to focus on trying to reduce the number of abortions.

And then he seemed to borrow a page directly from Barack Obama:

TWS: When do you believe life begins?

REP. RYAN: That answer's above my pay grade. That's for God to determine.

TWS: So you're not saying first trimester, second trimester, conception?

REP. RYAN: I don't know. I mean, that's God. God knows when it begins, and when it ends, and all that other stuff.

"Above my pay grade," is the exact response that Obama gave at the presidential forum at Saddleback Church during the campaign.

It's not surprising then that Kristen Day seeks a more consistent pro-life leader to carry on their cause in the Democratic caucus. "As far as the health care bill is concerned, I think we have to make it very clear that Congressman Bart Stupak is speaking for pro-life Democrats," says Day. "We're hoping at the end of the day Congressman Ryan will find his way back. He was elected by his constituents to be pro-life."

John McCormack is a deputy online editor at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.