How Does Paul Ryan Becoming Speaker of the House Impact Women’s Health?

(Getty News)

Today, Rep. Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) became the third most powerful man in American government, as he was voted to become the new speaker of the House following John Boehner’s retirement at the end of this week.

Yet, despite Ryan’s insistence that he would only take the speakership with the provision that he was not required to travel and fundraise on the weekends so he can instead spend time with his children, it remains to be determined what a Ryan speakership will actually mean for women’s health — not to mention the kind of paid family leave policy that he essentially has implemented for himself.

As Ellen Bravo, the executive director of Family Values @ Work, a network of coalitions in 21 states fighting to pass paid sick days and paid family leave policies, said in a statement last week, “[Ryan] refused to sign on to two bills that would provide Americans time to care for a loved one during a routine or even serious illness, namely the Healthy Families Act and the FAMILY Act. When Rep. Ryan had the opportunity to vote for paid time for federal employees to bond with a new child, he voted no — twice. He reserved his ‘yes’ vote for a bill that would take more people away from their families by making it easier for employers to require overtime.”

And yet, Ryan’s record on women’s issues extends well beyond that regarding paid leave policies.

Ryan has sponsored personhood legislation in the House on more than one occasion, most recently with the 2012 Sanctity of Human Life Act, which, had it passed, would have given full legal rights to human zygotes from the moment of fertilization. Not only would personhood legislation outlaw abortion, it would also render many forms of contraception as well as in vitro fertilization (IVF) illegal.

(Also, let’s not forget that Ryan co-sponsored the bill with Todd “legitimate rape” Akin.)

His desire to pass federal personhood measures is a capstone on a historically, vehemently antichoice record. He has a 100 percent score from the National Right to Life Committee on his voting record, having not cast a single one of his 59 reproductive rights votes for choice.

While campaigning for the vice presidency in 2012, he told that the Obama administration’s desire to mandate contraception coverage through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) even for religious organizations was “paternalistic,” “arrogant,” and acting as if “our constitutional rights were revocable privileges from our government, not inalienable rights from our Creator.”

He has voted to ban family planning funding in foreign aid, voted against stem cell research, and voted for a federal abortion ban with incredibly limited exceptions.

As a member of Congress, Ryan even supported legislation that would permit hospitals that receive federal funding to refuse abortion care even if the life of the woman was at risk.

Related: Meet the Families Who “Adopted” Their Kids — As Embryos

And his anti-women’s health stance expands far beyond abortion care. Ryan has voted against measures to end the wage gap that women, empirically, face; votes against Title X family planning programs; and has consistently pushed economic policies that would restrict Medicaid, Medicare — and even Head Start.

(It goes without saying, of course, that the new speaker also voted recently to defund Planned Parenthood.)

So what do Washington insiders think?

In a statement yesterday, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said, “I wish Chairman Ryan luck as he prepares to take on his new role as Speaker of the House. Chairman Ryan and I have serious disagreements regarding some of the most important issues facing middle class families, seniors, and the economy. But in our divided government, we can’t allow those differences to stop us from trying to find common ground to help the families we represent, move the country in the right direction, and make government work better for the people it serves.

“I am proud of the work Chairman Ryan and I did in 2013 to break through the gridlock and reach a two year budget deal that restored investments in education, health care, research, jobs and other Washington state priorities. Now that we have another bipartisan budget deal and as Chairman Ryan moves into his new position, I am hopeful that Democrats and Republicans can build on this bipartisan progress and keep working together to create jobs, grow the economy, and tackle the many other challenges facing families and small businesses in Washington state and across the country.”

In more frank terms, one House staffer who agreed to speak with Yahoo Health on the condition of anonymity noted, “I think it’s anyone’s guess what direction the House will go in with the Republican War on Women. Ryan seems like a reasonable guy who wants to roll up his sleeves on wonky issues, but his recent hire [as his chief of staff] of David Hoppe [the former vice president of government affairs at the far right-wing think tank the Heritage Foundation] seems to signal one of two things: that either it’s an olive branch to the ultra-conservatives, or that he actually wants to go in the ultra conservative direction.”

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