A Democratic congressman who is weighing a U.S. Senate run in politically divided Ohio has publicly switched his position to supporting abortion rights, saying Wednesday the decision is deeply personal and unrelated to any political aspirations.
In an op-ed published Wednesday in the Akron Beacon Journal, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, of Niles in northeast Ohio, wrote that he initially opposed the procedure that ends pregnancy but that his opinion has evolved. He said his stance favoring abortion rights is not new, and has been reflected in his voting record for about five years.
Ryan wrote that he grew up in a Catholic household and was opposed to abortion, but that stories shared by female constituents over 14 years in public service have led him to believe "the heavy hand of government" should be removed from reproductive decision-making.
"I've heard firsthand from women of all ages, races and socioeconomic backgrounds about the circumstances and hardships that accompany this personal choice, which we should not judge," he wrote. He cited abusive relationships, financial hardship, health scares, rape and incest among reasons women may seek to end pregnancies.
Ryan also has an 8-month-old son, his first child. He told The Associated Press in an interview that it was not coincidence that the declaration followed his experience realizing the battery of tests, check-ups and health decisions involved even in a healthy pregnancy.
"That's, to me, when it really hit me," Ryan said. "Like, there's no room for Uncle Sam in this examination room as we're getting test results back, regardless of how they come out."
His declaration also comes as Ryan said he is weighing whether to run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Republican Rob Portman. His name also often arises as a potential contender for Ohio governor.
A Democratic primary is already looking likely and a position opposing abortion rights could be a detriment. Thirty-year-old Cincinnati councilman P.G. Sittenfeld already announced as a contender, and former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman could be considering the race.
Ryan said he didn't change his position for political reasons and would leave to the pundits to speculate whether favoring abortion rights will help or hurt him politically.
Portman made his own policy switch in 2013, declaring a change of heart in favor of gay marriage after discovering a son was gay.
Ohio Right to Life president Mike Gonidakis blasted Ryan's switch as opportunistic and self-centered.
"By callously and carelessly tossing aside his so-called strong Catholic upbringing and pro-life beliefs to now support abortion, he sadly proves yet again that politicians will say anything and do anything to get elected or climb the political ladder," Gonidakis said in a statement.
The president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which favors abortion rights, called Ryan's turnabout courageous in her statement.
"Abortion is a complex and deeply personal issue, and Congressman Ryan's journey is not unusual," said Cecile Richards. "(He) joins the overwhelming majority of Americans who want women to have access to abortion and don't want politicians to interfere in women's personal medical decisions."
Ryan said he's never faced any pressure on either side of the abortion issue to change his position, even when he got kicked out of an anti-abortion Democratic coalition because of his position in favor of contraceptive access. His blue-collar district is solidly Democratic.
"It's not an issue that comes up really at all back home in my congressional district," he said. "I mean, we talk about jobs and economic development and kind of bread-and-butter issues that most people are focused on right now. This isn't the top of many people's lists really."
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