Written by Robin Marty for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

Paul Ryan

Paul Ryan (Photo: Gage Skidmore / Flickr)

Rep. Paul Ryan is against abortion, no exceptions. Paul Ryan would allow an exception for rape. Ryan doesn’t believe in birth control. Ryan only has three children, he must believe in birth control. Ryan is pro-life “from conception to natural death.”

Ever since the moment Mitt Romney picked Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate, the media has been picking intricately through votes and statements in an attempt to nail down just exactly what it is that Ryan means when he says he’s “never going to not vote pro-life.” It’s been hard to pin — for every vote restricting a woman’s right to chose, there is an explanation provided by another right-wing columnist saying that you can’t “prove” it really means he stands where it appears he stands. With so much media attention paid to his draconian budget in the last two years, few reporters spent nearly the same detail pinning down exactly what he believed when it comes to reproductive rights.

There’s a reason for that, and that is how Ryan’s couches his own language when it comes to reproductive rights — language that allows everyone to see what they want to see. By saying he would “never not vote pro-life,” he has it both ways — supporters can say that he supports forcing women to give birth regardless of the circumstances, yet when opponents say he would do that, they point to his lack of public statements to support that argument.

It’s the “hiding in plain sight” theory. There is no reference to abortion as an issue on Ryan’s campaign website, and only one news clipping even mentioning it in his media section. He speaks of “moral fabric” and a need to return God to the public square, but avoids saying outright what falls into the moral categories that need to be renewed.

For those who support abortion rights, it’s easy to look at the votes he has cast and the bills he has cosponsored and say that clearly, Ryan is an opponent of abortion in all situations. After all, he cosponsored the “forcible rape” bill, the “let her die” act and has a perfect record with National Right to Life.

Opponents disagree. If they choose, they could cast his numerous votes to ban funding and access for abortion as just a sign of his fiscal hawkishness, a vote to protect the conscience of those who are religious, or a fight to protect the fetus being carried by its mother if the mother is a victim of a crime.

So who is right, and why is it so hard to discern?

Here are the things we know for sure:

In 1999, Ryan voted for “An amendment to prohibit any funds to be used by the FDA for the testing, development, or approval (including approval of production, manufacturing, or distribution) of any drug for the chemical inducement of abortion.” He spent the next few years voting for numerous funding restrictions for abortions, as well as “fetal protection” acts that were allegedly about adding additional punishments when crimes against a mother resulting in harm to a baby, but instead laid the groundwork for pregnant women themselves being charged with crimes.

In 2005, Ryan was part of the House group that felt they should interject on behalf of Terri Schiavo and keep her on feeding tubes despite her previously stated wishes to not continue in a vegetative state indefinitely.

“A core purpose of our government is to defend the lives of its citizens, including those who are severely disabled. Terri Schiavo deserves this protection and, at the very least, her parents deserve the right to ask a federal court to review their daughter’s tragic case and consider whether her rights are being upheld.”

“Terri Schiavo is not being kept alive by extraordinary means. She is brain damaged and needs help taking in food and drink. And she would not be undergoing a ‘dying process’ if her food and water were not being withheld. Her life is precious and her rights – and her parents’ rights – should be respected.”

The vote and his statement would add even more credence to the idea that Ryan does indeed agree with the principles of “protecting life from the moment of conception until natural death.”

In 2006, Ryan voted for a ban on allowing pregnant teens to travel to another state without parental consent in order to receive an abortion. The bill provided “exceptions for life-threatening or medical emergencies, cases where the minor declares in a written statement that she is the victim of abuse by a parent and the abortion provider informs the appropriate state authorities of such abuse, and certain other narrowly defined circumstances.” Could this then mean that Ryan would support exceptions in other bans? Once again, it’s impossible to tell, though it must be said that these kinds of “exceptions” are, in real life, not exceptions at all.

Also in 2006, Ryan was a cosponsor of a “fetal pain” bill that would require doctors to tell women that a fetus could feel pain at 20 weeks and that she might want to provide drugs for the fetus during an abortion to stop its pain. The law was similar to one that was signed into law by Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty in 2003. The federal version didn’t pass.

After the 2008 election and Republican losses, Ryan implied that it was time to move off of social issues and focus on more economically bold ones instead.

“We’ve done some good things on social conservatism. We banned partial-birth abortion. We got good judges. We defended marriage. We’ve been strong on national defense. Where we fell down is on fiscal conservatism and on economic liberty. We’ve washed that tenet out of our party. What we have to do is go back to our basics and become that reform party again, become the party of ideas again.”

He then rejected his own advice, and in 2009, Ryan supported a Pro-Life Wisconsin campaign to stop allowing abortions at the University of Wisconsin health center in Madison.

“Such a flagrant disrespect for the rights of the unborn is deeply troubling,” added Ryan. “Should University of Wisconsin officials follow through on this effort to compromise the value of human life, it is imperative that the conscience rights of pro-life employees are fully protected. This is an altogether troubling proposition.”

Due to the fears of safety for staff and patients after ceaseless protests and attention from anti-choice groups, the school eventually decided not to open the center.

Despite being a hero to anti-choice Republicans who take a hard line when it comes to abortion, in 2009 Ryan publicly tried to distance himself from the extremists, telling Nora McDonnell on MSNBC in that tent is big enough for everyone, :

MS. O’DONNELL: Congressman, I have two other questions about the future of the Republican Party. The first involves the chairman of the Republican Party, Michael Steele. He has given an interview with GQ Magazine in which he was asked about abortion. And the interviewer asked, “Are you saying you think women have the right to choose abortion?” And Steele responded, “Yeah, I mean, again, I think that’s an individual choice.” Does that cause a problem for your party when the chairman says, “I think that’s an individual choice”?

REP. RYAN: We are a big-tent party. I am personally pro-life. I am a pro-life legislator. Michael Steele may be pro-choice. We are a big-tent party. We don’t have a 16-point litmus test that you have to pass to get into the Republican Party. If you believe in the American ideal — self-determination, freedom, liberty, limited government, free enterprise — we want you in our party.

MS. O’DONNELL: Really? There’s not a problem when the chairman of the Republican Party is pro-choice?

REP. RYAN: No. We have plenty of pro-choice Republicans in our party. There are pro-choice Republicans in Congress. There are pro- choice Republicans that I represent in Wisconsin. We are a big-tent party.

I’m pro-life, Michael Steele is pro-choice, and you know what? We both fit within the tent of the Republican Party.

Soon after, however, he won back his rigid anti-choice street cred by voting against the 2010 appropriations bill because it allowed D.C. to fund abortions for low income women:

Mr. Chair, after careful consideration of H.R. 3170, it is with great regret that I announce my opposition to this bill as a result of its careless disregard for human life.

Historically, there has been a restriction on government-funded abortion in Washington, DC. Language known as the Dornan Amendment, which prohibited both federally and locally appropriated funds from being used to pay for abortions, has always been adopted in prior-year versions of H.R. 3170. However, in a break from this longstanding tradition, the majority chose instead to include language that does not prohibit local taxpayer funding for abortion services. In effect, Congress is breaking with history and allowing taxpayer funded abortions where they were previously prohibited.

In short, I really hoped to take this opportunity to support our nation’s auto dealers. Because H.R. 3170 effectively legalized taxpayer-funded abortion services, I could not support it.

Once the battle over health care reform began, and House Republicans especially began campaigning on opposing the Affordable Care Act, Ryan’s religiously-toned health care opposition sprung free. He publicly denounced the plan on his website in a press release that read in part:

Higher taxes and higher premiums aren’t the only poison pills in this massive overhaul. Many Wisconsin taxpayers have raised concerns at the fact that their tax dollars will be used to fund and subsidize abortions as a result of this legislation. Legitimate concerns persist with the legislation’s lack of safeguards with respect to the conscience rights of religiously-affiliated hospitals and pro-life doctors and nurses.

Like many Republicans, he supported the Stupak/Pitts amendment codifying Hyde that would undermine the ability for women of all income levels to get access to affordable terminations, despite the fact that he obviously opposed passing the Affordable Care Act in the first place.

Mr. Speaker, this is perhaps the worst bill I have seen come to the floor in my 11 years of serving in Congress, and what would make this bill worse is if we break with the long-standing law of preventing abortions from being funded with taxpayer dollars.

For those of us who support the protection of and the sanctity of life, the only vote, the right vote, the vote to keep a clean conscience is a “yes” vote for the Stupak amendment.

Soon after he was battling the bill itself, then decried the executive order that maintained Hyde, even going as far as to say that it didn’t matter what Catholic nuns believed about taxpayer funding of abortions, only the bishops.

The bishops are the authority, and the bishops say… I’m a Catholic. Let me tell you, the bishops are the authority, not the hospital administrators… And they say this funds abortion.

If the bishops are the authority, than it is probably no coincidence that his opposition to no co-pay birth control in insurance plans sounds remarkably like a press release from the United State Conference of Catholic Bishops:

The Contraception Mandate as an Infringement on Religious Liberty
The law gives the power to the Department of Health and Human Services to literally mandate what we can and cannot have. The whole issue is not necessarily about sterilization, abortion drugs, and contraception – it’s that the government is mandating that we all buy coverage of these services. This is coverage that we have to pay for, even if it violates our religious freedom, our religious liberty and our conscience. It’s a law that treats our constitutional rights as revocable privileges by our government, not inalienable rights by our creator.

Following this up with his recent votes for everything from defunding Planned Parenthood to banning abortion at 20 weeks post fertilization in D.C., and it would seem based on his votes and public statements that he does believe in “life from conception to natural death” and that he would outlaw all abortions with no exception for rape, incest or health of the mother.  Still the question doesn’t seem completely settled.

Abortion rights supporters say that his previous vote on a “no exceptions” late abortion ban, the so-called “partial birth” abortion ban, means that he does not believe in exceptions ever. Ryan apologists claim that he has never stated he would ban abortion in all cases, and his support of “personhood” bills is simply an affirmation that the issue of whether abortion should be legal or not should be returned to the states.

Can Ryan have it both ways?

Polifact tries to give him cover. At the same time that they report that both the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the the National Right to Life Committee agree that the only exception Ryan supports is in the case of the “life of the mother” being at risk, they also point out that the “Sanctity of Human Life” bill that Ryan supported in 2011 doesn’t actually do any banning of abortion.

That’s true. More likely to actually ban abortion would have been another bill sponsored that year, called the “Life At Conception” Act.  It too declared “life” began at fertilization, but that there was a right to life from that point on.

To implement equal protection for the right to life of each born and preborn human person, and pursuant to the duty and authority of the Congress, including Congress’ power under article I, section 8, to make necessary and proper laws, and Congress’ power under section 5 of the 14th article of amendment to the Constitution of the United States, the Congress hereby declares that the right to life guaranteed by the Constitution is vested in each human being. However, nothing in this Act shall be construed to authorize the prosecution of any woman for the death of her unborn child.

Although anti-choice luminaries like Congressman Steve King of Iowa, or Congressman Akin of Missouri sponsored the bill, Ryan did not. That bill never made it out of committee.

Confused yet? You should be. The language of the “Life at Conception Act” is identical to that of a 2007 bill called “The Right to Life Act.” That bill, like the “Life at Conception Act,” was sponsored by Rep. Duncan Hunter, too. Unlike its later counterpart, Ryan signed on as a cosponsor one year later.

We may not be entirely sure where Ryan stands at this moment, but anti-choice activists have absolutely no doubt that Ryan is in fact their “pro-life” hero. CatholicVotes announced their endorsement of the Romney/Ryan ticket, saying, “Paul Ryan will be the first pro-life Catholic to appear on a Republican presidential ticket since Roe v. Wade. Paul Ryan understands his faith. He understands Catholic social teaching, and prays and works to apply his faith to the practice of politics, including his economic and budget proposals.”

Exactly what are those social teachings?  Well, it comes as no surprise that CatholicVote does not believe in abortion in any instance, including for victims of rape.  “The rapist… is forever guilty of rape. The child conceived as a result of the rape was not guilty of the crime. The child did no wrong. The child ought not get the death penalty for his father’s rape.” but once again, Ryan is endorsed by supporters who claim he feels the same way, but avoids saying as much himself.

“As for Ryan’s current views, there is no indication they have changed but Ryan campaign aides declined to talk publicly about his position,” writes Politifact. “Since entering Congress, Ryan has focused on budget and fiscal issues so his views on abortion and social issues have not received much attention.”

Perhaps it’s time we make Ryan himself and his aides talk, and really put his honest, open views out into the public arena once and for all.