St. Petersburg, Fla. -- On the eve of his only debate with Joe Biden, Republican vice presidential nominee Paul D. Ryan said he and Mitt Romney have the same position on abortion, though he refused to say what, exactly, that was.
On Wednesday, at an impromptu stop for ice cream on his way to board a plane for Kentucky, where he is to debate the vice president at Centre College in Danville, Ryan tweaked reporters for asking him “softball” questions about how he was feeling before his big night.
“How about the difference between your position on abortion and your running mate’s?” asked a reporter, a reference to a ruckus Romney raised Tuesday when he told the Des Moines Register’s editorial board that his agenda included no new antiabortion laws.
“Our position’s unified,” Ryan replied. “Our position’s consistent and hasn’t changed.”
“What is your position?” the reporter asked.
“I’m sure you’ll find out in these debates,” Ryan replied.
Ryan has been forced to walk a delicate line on what he says publicly about the abortion issue now and what he has always expressed in the past.
The Wisconsin congressman is a conservative Catholic with a staunch antiabortion record, and has often tried to scale back women’s access to legal abortion or end it altogether.
While Romney supports abortion rights in the case of rape or incest, Ryan has said repeatedly that he does not. (He would allow abortion if needed to save a mother’s life.) However, after he was selected to be Romney’s running mate, Ryan said he was “comfortable” with Romney’s view and looked upon it as a step in the right direction. Today, his spokesman would not say whether Ryan had changed his position, only that Romney’s view is the Romney/Ryan ticket’s position.
Ryan has also supported so-called personhood measures that would confer legal rights on a fetus (and thus potentially lead to the banning of all abortions). Last year, he cosponsored a federal bill that said that “each human life begins with fertilization, cloning or its functional equivalent, at which time every human has all legal and constitutional attributes and privileges of personhood.”
Romney has never explicitly endorsed such a law, though he has said, as do many abortion foes, that he believes life begins at conception. Instead, his spokesman said in November 2011, “he believes these matters should be left up to states to decide.”
Many political analysts believed that selecting Ryan would help Romney among social conservatives, some of whom distrusted Romney’s antiabortion bona fides, since he had very publicly supported abortion rights before opposing them.
Ryan has consistently opposed abortion. “I’m as pro-life as a person gets,” Ryan told the Weekly Standard in 2010. “You’re never going to have a truce… I’m never going to not vote pro-life.”
In August, Ryan told a reporter, “I’ve always adopted the idea, the position that, the method of conception doesn’t change the definition of life,” Ryan said, referring to rape or incest. “But the Romney policy is that there will be exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother, and I think that is what people want to know, and I am comfortable with that because I think that’s a vast improvement to the status quo.”
Romney’s comments Tuesday in Des Moines worried some conservatives, and drew accusations of dissembling on the left. It also led to a clarification from his spokeswoman, who said the former Massachusetts governor would “of course” sign legislation aimed at ending abortion rights. “Mitt Romney is proudly pro-life,” said Andrea Saul, “and he will be a pro-life president.”