As Amanda noted last night, Paul Ryan couldn’t pivot away from abortion fast enough in last night’s debate. Asked by Martha Raddatz to talk about how religion informs his personal pro-life views (the worst Raddatz question of the night, given that it matters not at all how he feels personally, only how a Romney-Ryan administration would actually govern on the issue), Ryan quickly moved on to accuse Obamacare of trampling on the Catholic Church’s religious freedom (to deny women contraception). I guess the calculation is that defending the Church, attacking Obamacare, and saying “freedom” a lot is better, optics-wise, than getting too deep in the weeds on his anti-choice views.
However, before the pivot, Ryan actually gave a really interesting answer.
RYAN: You know, I think about 10 1/2 years ago, my wife Janna and I went to Mercy Hospital in Janesville where I was born, for our seven week ultrasound for our firstborn child, and we saw that heartbeat. A little baby was in the shape of a bean. And to this day, we have nicknamed our firstborn child Liza, “Bean.” Now I believe that life begins at conception.
Immediately, we got the inevitable @PaulRyansBean, and the answer was widely mocked on Twitter (or, at least, by the legume-hating lefties I follow), but I found it enormously effective. As a pro-choice mother of two (with one more on the way) who has looked at my share of sonograms, I know that, if you are planning to keep the baby, the speck you sort of see on the ultrasound screen is not a tiny cluster of cells, but your future child. And so I would imagine that, for that one minute, in between Ryan using meaningless-to-him words like “science” and “reason” to defend his anti-choice views, a lot of parents watching the debate could relate. As my Slate colleage Farhad Manjoo noted:
As I said, many disagreed:
RYAN: All I’m saying is, if you believe that life begins at conception, that, therefore, doesn’t change the definition of life. That’s a principle.
It takes some backbone (horribly misguided backbone) to say: Hey, if I’m against abortion because I think it’s murder, then it’s murder no matter the circumstance. I completely disagree with him, of course, but at least he believes what he’s saying. As Tracy Weitz wrote earlier this year: “In many ways people opposed to abortion in all cases have a more consistent, and I would say, honest position.” Of course, then Ryan went on to say that his principle wouldn’t be a Romney administration policy, so I guess his backbone’s not quite as sturdy as his desire for power.