After Listening To Women, Longtime Anti-Abortion Congressman Becomes Pro-Choice

By Stephen D. Foster Jr. | 29 January 2015
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Tim Ryan has formally announced that he’s pro-choice. (Photo: Sabrina Eaton / Northeast Ohio Media Group)

A six term congressman and lifelong opponent of abortion rights has finally changed his mind, and all it took was for him to start talking with and listening to women.

Tim Ryan is a bluedog Democrat and lifetime Catholic who represents Ohio in the U.S. House of Representatives. Since first stepping into the Capitol Building, he has supported many pieces of anti-abortion legislation written by Republicans. But unlike his Republican colleagues who are slaves to their conservative base, Ryan actually not only talked with women, he listened to them. In the process, he experienced a change of heart and officially announced on Tuesday that he now supports a woman’s right to choose.

In an op-ed published by the Akron Beacon Journal, Ryan explained how he reached his decision.

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.

I have sat with women from Ohio and across the nation and heard them talk about their varying experiences: abusive relationships, financial hardship, health scares, rape and incest. There are endless stories about women in troubling situations — the woman who became pregnant and has a violent spouse; the woman who lost her job and is unable to afford another child; or the underage girl worried she’ll be thrown out of her house if she reveals her pregnancy.

These are just a few of the many stories I have heard. Each of these women lived through difficult and personal situations with few options and no clear path to take. This is why there is no easy answer.

Ryan personally thanked US Rep. Rosa DeLauro for helping him understand that “Nobody celebrates abortion,” and that such decisions are personal ones that should be between women, their families, and their doctors. He also acknowledged that federal and state bans won’t reduce abortions. Such laws only make abortions less safe.

Instead, Ryan wrote that government can play a role in significantly reducing the number of abortions by passing laws to help women access contraception and better sex education.

Where government does have the ability to play a significant role is in giving women and families the tools they need to prevent unintended pregnancies by expanding education and access to contraception. We must get past the ignorance, fear and — yes — discrimination against women that lead to restrictions on contraception and age-appropriate sex education.

Only then can we hope to continue to make significant advances in what should be our true, shared objective: reducing the number of unintended pregnancies, which make up the vast majority of abortions. Isn’t that a simple approach on which we all could agree? This is not a partisan issue, but instead a personal one.

But Ryan didn’t stop there. He also called upon Democrats and Republicans to unite and pass legislation that eliminates many barriers that all too often play a role in a woman’s decision.

We can all come together — Republicans, Democrats and independents — to create a comprehensive and common-sense legislative agenda that ensures new mothers have access to affordable health care, housing and healthy food. It is my hope that through these efforts abortions will rarely be necessary.

Most importantly, Ryan wrote that he grew to trust women and called upon politicians to stop trying to make decisions for them about their bodies and lives.

Today, I am a 41-year-old father and husband whose feelings on this issue have changed. I have come a long way since being a single, 26-year-old state senator, and I am not afraid to say that my position has evolved as my experiences have broadened, deepened and become more personal. And while I have deep respect for people on both sides of this conversation, I would be abandoning my own conscience and judgment if I held a position that I no longer believed appropriate.

I have come to believe that we must trust women and families — not politicians — to make the best decision for their lives.

Tim Ryan, once one of the extreme voices against legal abortion is now speaking up in defense of keeping it legal. And all it took to change his mind was a real conversation with women.

This change of heart represents a positive step in the right direction. The fact is, anti-abortion measures do not stop abortion. Restricting abortion only makes the procedure less safe and makes women more desperate to seek the care they need, even if it is in a back alley. If Republicans truly want to see the abortion rate fall dramatically, they would be wise to fully fund and enact comprehensive sex education and provide better access to contraception. Both measures would help prevent unwanted pregnancies in the first place. Greater access to affordable healthcare, housing, and food would also make it easier for women to decide against abortion because they’ll have the necessities required to take care of a child properly.

All Republicans have to do is shift their focus toward taking care of children instead of zygotes. Then, all that is required is for them to trust women to make the best decision for themselves. All they need to do is take that first step by treating women like human beings who are perfectly capable of making decisions and listening to them instead of the conservative “Christian” extremists in their party. Now, that would be surefire way to bring women back to the Republican Party.

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  1. I cried when I read this, and crying while typing this. Someone that understands we are not monsters, we are real, live breathing women. We all had very good reasons for needing an abortion. In May, I was called a murderer by one of the pastors in my church and "invited" to leave the church after admitting I had an abortion almost 35 years ago. Since that time I have been very active in the community, trying to remove the stigma attached to abortion, and supporting women's rights. I have spoken to many pastors and have been treated with such vile that I doubt that I will ever step foot in a church again. We are women and we alone know if we are emotionally, financially or physically able to raise a child for the next 18 years. I really needed to read this today–and truly was an answer to prayer. I know God loves me, and I also know that all the people (including the pastors) that have called me murderer, baby killer, etc. will face the only true Judge one day, and will have to answer for their lack of mercy and compassion for the living woman on the other end of that umbilical cord.

    • As long as you know that your God loves you, you have won the battle. Those who would condemn you will have to face this same God and explain their self-righteousness. You have earned much respect and admiration from me to you. Stand tall and know that there millions of people who would stand beside you.

    • It’s unfortunate that you were treated like this by people who claim to be “men of God”. Quite obviously they do not represent the real God of the Bible who forgives people that want to be forgiven. Pastors like this are the reason so many people have turned away from Christianity. The true Christianity is out there, and if you sincerely ask God, he will help you find it. Don’t let these people have that kind of control over you.

    • There are still many churches you can step into if being in a supportive religious community brings you comfort, you just need to know which one. If you are looking for a Christian community – you might want to try United Church of Christ; the non-dogmatic Unitarian Universalist congregrations are strong supporters of women and reproductive freedom, most Jewish communities are pro-choice. I am a social justice leader in my UU congregation — and one of our most important issues right now is being a religious voice for reproductive justice.

  2. This is wonderful. We need so many more Congressional voices in favor of REDUCING abortions, by supporting successful, and planned, parenthood. Every child born, should be born to loving parents who want a child, and NO woman, anywhere, owes anyone else a child of her body.

    • There are so many, many forces in our culture that tell men NOT to trust women that it really is something that must be learned by many. This reality is appalling but when a man finally gets it, even after having not gotten it for a long time, we are right to celebrate the change.

      I grew up Catholic and had 13 years of Catholic education in the '50's and '60's. I had to learn my way out of that insofar as respect for women is concerned. I'm not appalled by this man's change of heart, I am thrilled by it and it feels familiar.

      • I too am a recovering Catholic. I also understand how difficult and life changing the decision to abort a fetus is for any woman. I have made a decision to stand behind, or beside any woman who makes this impossible decision. I am a childless bachelor. I have no dog in this fight. But women must have the power over their own bodies.

  3. This gives me hope, if only more would come forth and bend a little…I think it's time we close this gap on controlling women and governing our bodies…

  4. I.
    I'm a man who has long given unequivocal support to women's right to choose. But I've *never* read of a story where a man, especially a politician actually *listens* to women AND has a change of heart. I'm just…wow!

  5. One could easily say, "About time," but let us be more generous and compassionate and congratulated Congressman Tim Ryan for his openness and willingness to listen and change. I also notice the two congresswomen with their coat hangers. Years ago I posted that when the Supreme Court was considering the question of abortion that everyone should mail them a coat hanger as a reminder of what the anti-abortion movement will achieve if they managed to end legal abortion.

  6. Congressman Ryan, please talk to Senator Robert Casey from Pennsylvania. He, too, is Catholic but remains staunchly anti-choice. Giving credit where it’s due, he is supportive of contraception, but does not seem to understand that women need full control over their bodies, which sometimes includes termination of pregnancy.

  7. Small correction to Pamela's otherwise welcoming comment: UCC (United Church of Christi) is very much "open and accepting," but it is a different organization than UU (Unitarian Universalist,) referenced in the same breath. You'd be welcome at either, but there are some doctrinal differences.

  8. In the US, the rate of abortion does not change when it is legal or not. The only thing that changes is the mortality rate of women obtaining abortions. When abortion is not legally available, the rate of death to women dying from botched abortions increases by a factor of 7.67 from 0.6 to 4.6 per 100,000! Therefore, if someone is truly PRO-LIFE, then they would be PRO-CHOICE and pro-abortion.

    Kudos to representative Ryan for doing the right thing.


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