The XX Factor

What Does Paul Ryan’s Bean Have To Do With Abortion?

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.