Political Animal


August 14, 2012 5:53 PM The Federalism Dodge on the Right To Choose

By Ed Kilgore

There’s been a lively exchange in the blogosphere today over Paul Ryan’s views on abortion policy, involving people I respect, notably former Political Animal Kevin Drum and National Review’s Ramesh Ponnuru. Kevin notes that Ryan was a cosponsor of the Sanctity of Life Act, which expressed a congressional opinion that states should be able to regulate reproductive rights going back to the Moment of Conception—a moment evidently defined as excluding a variety of widely used birth control methods. Ramesh argues that the bill would have simply made it clear state legislatures should regain control over such “policy issues.”

Kevin’s right on this. Yes, there is a federalist case to be made against Roe v. Wade, but no, you can’t claim that’s where Paul Ryan, much less the anti-choice movement he represents, actually stands. The Right to Life, if you are of the zygote-as-just-like-me-or-you persuasion, or the Right to Choose, if you think otherwise, is not a constitutional issue on which there is a great deal of middle ground. Ryan is a confirmed anti-choice guy who may well support “states’ rights” on the issue as a tactical matter, but would be perfectly happy if the Supreme Court would somehow establish a federal constitutional Zygote Rights provision.

As Sarah Kliff notes at WaPo’s Wonkblog today, Ryan said this in 2010:

“I cannot believe any official or citizen can still defend the notion that an unborn human being has no rights that an older person is bound to respect,” Ryan wrote in a piece on personhood for the Heritage Foundation in 2010. “How long can we sustain our commitment to freedom if we continue to deny the very foundation of freedom — life — for the most vulnerable human beings?”

This isn’t about constitutional doctrines or fine-picking or federalism: Paul Ryan would like to offer the protection of state power to zygotes at the expense of women’s
rights. As a tactical matter, he’d support states’ right or the federal government’s rights to make that happen. But let’s don’t pretend he is indifferent to how any level of government would decide to proceed.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • c u n d gulag on August 14, 2012 6:23 PM:

    Yes, by all means, let the states decide!

    And if a woman decides to abort a child, or a n*gger, Sp*c, or Fagg*t, or old Liberal person, decides he/she wants to vote, let them go out of state to do so, too.

    Either something is a right, or it ain't!

    But the ONE THING all states MUST respect, is the 2nd Amendment!

    We can make women and black and brown and gay and older people go to other state for their rights.
    But 2nd Amendment Rights belong to everyone - locally!

    So, go shoot a feckin' potential Liberal, woman, N*gger, Sp*c, Fagg*t, or old person, BEFORE they decide to excercise their right to vote in your state:
    "It's The American Way!!!"

    After our Civil War, we should have treated the losers the same way as other countries theirs in their civil wars - as meat to be hung for display so any other true believers know what's in store for them.

    Instead, we forgave them, and tried to build them up.

    And now, they're on the verge of controlling the whole country.
    If only we'd hung every traitor and his/her family, and salted the Earth, we might be in a different place than we are now.


    We decided to have a "Marshall Plan" for the South, long before Marshall was born.
    And the European "Marshall Plan" helped this nation.
    "Reconstruction" may well be the death of it.

    I'm of the opinion, more and more, that it's either "Seperation," or "Destruction."
    Let the South make the choice.

    I've already written about this too many times to repeat my opinion again.
    Most of you know how I feel:
    "You want to secede? Please, PLEASE, be our guests!!!"

    But don't never, ever, ask to return.
    The rest of us are tired of being a battered spouse to you religious racist, sexist, xenophobic, and/or homophobic morons.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on August 14, 2012 6:29 PM:

    A zygote protection law is insufficient! I call upon our next vice president to sponsor a 'Sperm Protection Law' that assure that it is a criminal act to harm any sperm prior to or after implanting in a woman's uterus.

    Not only should contraception be illegal, our nation needs the reversal of Griswold v Connecticut so that our governments can get back to the necessary business of window peeping to catch any persons engaged in the criminal activities of using contraceptives. To assure that such criminal activities are detected and prosecuted, we probably also need to put cameras in all bathrooms, bedrooms, and kitchens of all homes. After all, if you are not engaged in criminal behavior you should not object.

    Damn, sometimes I even amaze myself over how good a republican I am!

  • mcc on August 14, 2012 6:34 PM:

    I was born in Texas. I don't see any difference between someone thinking Texas should be allowed to do a thing and someone thinking the thing should happen federally. The argument to a pro-choice person that Ryan's position is acceptable starts and ends with "but nothing bad will happen to *you*-- it's just those icky southerners that will have to suffer!". This argument presupposes the person being targeted isn't a southerner.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on August 14, 2012 6:39 PM:

    We probably also need an 'Ova Rights Law' making it a crime to destroy a living ovum. Everyone knows that an ovum is a living organism and it should be a crime to have an ovum destroyed. Of course, while menstruation is obviously a criminal act, penalties should not include jail time due to the expense. A reasonable solution will be to criminalize every woman who menstruates with the penalty being the loss of voting 'privileges'.

  • SecularAnimist on August 14, 2012 6:45 PM:

    If a zygote is an "unborn human being" then Paul Ryan is an "undead human being".

  • RepublicanPointOfView on August 14, 2012 6:56 PM:

    These criticisms of Paul Ryan are misguided. The only 'fair' criticisms of Ryan are for being insufficiently committed to the protection of unborn sperm and ova.

  • Mimikatz on August 14, 2012 8:22 PM:

    People need to understand that Ryan's personhood bills outlaw hormonal forms of birth control like the Pill, as well as some other forms of birth control that prevent implantation, also IVF and other things besides what most if us think of as abortion.

    Various Internet sources are reporting that Tagg Romney and his wife just became the parents of twins, by IVF and using a surrogate mother. Also one or two of his brothers have had fertility issues and have reportedly used IVF, as have many upscale couples. What's Romney's view on criminalizing his children?

  • Michael W on August 14, 2012 8:45 PM:

    This shouldn't be too hard. The Supreme Court settled it in 1973 in Roe v. Wade, and reiterated it in the Karen Ann Quinlan and Terri Schiavo cases. If life ends at brain death, then life, correspondingly, begins at brain birth (estimated by most medical professional to be sometime right after the first trimester has completed----funny coincidence that that coincides with current federal law).

    The problem now, though, is that certain religious zealots want to redefine what "brain birth" means.

  • PEA on August 14, 2012 10:23 PM:

    Since the GOP in Congress and the states have spent most of their time lately trying to pass laws restricting women's reproductive rights, the R/R ticket's position on this is particularly important -- not just some abstract little point. If they are elected, you can bet some federal laws will change along with new Supremes being appointed on the order of Scalia and Alito. If that happens I will hope CA will secede. If they lose, I am hoping like C U N D that some (all?) of the south does. Let them eat their own cake.

  • arkie on August 14, 2012 10:55 PM:

    So Ryan wants us to believe that life, which begins at conception, is sacred but is he is OK with New York or California allowing women to kill their "babies".

  • DrJ on August 14, 2012 11:44 PM:

    I am fine with a personhood amendment or state level laws. Let every woman who miscarries be subjected to manslaughter charges. Every woman who seeks an abortion should be subject to charges of conspiracy to commit murder. Every woman who actually consents to a medical procedure to terminate her pregnancy should be sentenced to life in prison. If your girlfriend is fortunate enough to live in Texas, let's execute her.

  • CharlieM on August 15, 2012 7:45 AM:

    Ah, "states rights". Where no inherent human right is acknowledged and every "right" is up for a vote.

  • stratplayer on August 15, 2012 8:08 AM:

    Any time you hear someone raise a formal or procedural point like "federalism" or "states' rights" you can bet that it's merely a proxy for an underlying substantive agenda. It has ever been thus. No one has ever given a flying f*ck for federalism for the sake of federalism alone. Conservatives raise these kinds of points and elevate them to lofty first principles because they believe that on the whole they will yield their preferred outcomes.

  • amused on August 15, 2012 11:21 AM:

    Ramesh argues that the bill would have simply made it clear state legislatures should regain control over such “policy issues.”

    You respect a guy who thinks women are "policy issues" that should be controlled by state legislatures? That's just sick.