U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) announced Wednesday that he won’t run for reelection this year, ending a billionaire-backed career in Washington spent peddling myths and inflammatory rhetoric about abortion rights and those living in poverty.
Pro-choice organizations swiftly celebrated Ryan’s departure. “People across America can now look forward to a time where Paul Ryan is not working every day to undermine our fundamental freedoms, including reproductive freedom,” NARAL National Communications Director Kaylie Hanson Long said in a statement.
“Good riddance,” Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, said in a statement. “Paul Ryan loved nothing more than pushing viciously anti-woman budgets that slashed women’s access to health care, gutted assistance to low-income families, and dismantled Medicare. Under his leadership—if we can call it that—American women suffered while billionaires took their tax cuts to the bank.”
As Ryan prepares to end his time in Congress, join Rewire.News for a look back on some of his most memorable moments.
The Lie That Won’t Die: Ryan’s Claim That Planned Parenthood Uses Taxpayer Money for Abortion Care
Ryan didn’t just push laws to restrict access to reproductive health care—he also advanced falsehoods about the issue. Among them was his provably wrong claim that Planned Parenthood uses taxpayer funding for abortion care.
After Ryan made that suggestion during a CNN town hall in January 2017, host Jake Tapper pressed Ryan on the issue, pointing out that the Hyde Amendment blocks federal funding for abortion care. “Right,” Ryan replied. “But, they get a lot of money and—and you know, money is fungible and it effectively floats these organizations which then use other money. You know, money is fungible.”
As Amanda Marcotte explained in Slate, “Republicans who tout the ‘money is fungible’ line want you to imagine that Planned Parenthood draws on one big pot of government money for all its services. But since medical services are billed and funded individually, that’s not actually how this works. For instance, if subsidies that discount contraception disappear, the price of contraception goes up, but the price of abortion will stay the same.”
Ryan used his claim to argue in favor of diverting Planned Parenthood’s funding to community health centers. However, according to an analysis from the Guttmacher Institute, it’s “simply unrealistic to expect other providers to readily step up and restore the gravely diminished capacity of the family planning safety net were Planned Parenthood defunded.”
Ryan’s Quest for ‘Conscience Protections’ and ‘Religious Liberty’
Ryan has been an unabashed supporter of so-called conscience protections, which would allow health-care providers and organizations to refuse to provide services in the name of “religious liberty,” or religious imposition.
Ryan’s own health-care plan parroted provisions in the Conscience Protection Act, as Rewire.News reported in 2016. “Both would give health-care providers a private right of action to seek civil damages in court, should they face alleged coercion or discrimination stemming from their refusal to assist in abortion care,” Christine Grimaldi wrote.
Ryan defended the legislation on the House floor, claiming that “the federal government has not been protecting people’s right.”
“I think we can all agree, that in this country, no one should be forced to perform an abortion,” Ryan said, though these protections already exist in federal and state law.
During the 2018 State of the Union Address, Ryan again took up the issue when he chose to bring Cathy Cenzon-DeCarlo, who he deemed “a fighter for faith and the unborn,” to the event. Cenzon-DeCarlo was part of a lawsuit brought by the anti-choice litigation mill Alliance Defending Freedom claiming that the nurse had been forced to assist in an abortion procedure despite her religious views against abortion rights. Ryan had used Cenzon-DeCarlo’s story when speaking in favor of “conscience protections” in his aforementioned 2016 speech in the House.
‘Makers and Takers’: Ryan’s Stigmatization of Those Living in Poverty
Ryan’s departure comes as an executive order was announced Tuesday by the Trump administration pushing for work requirements in federal welfare programs.
The Wisconsin Republican has long advocated to make public assistance less accessible and less generous, including work requirements and cuts to programs intended to alleviate poverty. Speaking in March 2017 at an event for the conservative outlet National Review, Ryan said cutting Medicaid had been something he and his allied colleagues had been “dreaming of,” telling host Rich Lowry that he’d been thinking about doing so “since you and I were drinking out of kegs.”
Years prior, Ryan utilized stigmatizing rhetoric about families with low incomes who rely on federal programs, framing the discussion of those who use them as “takers” while others were “makers.” He apologized in an August 2014 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal for throwing around the terms, writing that the “phrase gave insult where none was intended.” He nevertheless continued promoting policies that were recognized by advocates for alleviating poverty and journalists as having similarly stigmatized those with low incomes.