Ohio congressman changes stance on abortion

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan’s decision to support abortion rights is a sign that he is considering a statewide run for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 2016 or governor in 2018, political analysts said.

In an opinion piece in Tuesday’s Akron Beacon Journal, Ryan, 41, wrote that he has dropped his opposition to abortion rights, an abrupt change in his anti-abortion stance during his 15 years in public office.

Ryan, D-Niles, wrote that as a new parent, his “feelings on this issue have changed,” adding “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.”

Ryan represents Ohio’s 13th district in the Youngstown/Akron area.

In an interview Wednesday, Ryan said his decision was “personal” and not political. He said he will make up his mind “in the next few weeks” about whether he will run for the Senate next year.

Analysts say it would have been virtually impossible for Ryan to win a statewide Democratic primary as an opponent of abortion rights.

“If you’re going to run in a Democratic primary in Ohio and in most states, your vulnerabilities are from the left, not the right,” said James Ruvolo, former chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party. “And the choice issue is a big issue on the left. If you are not pro-choice, the odds are your opponent would attack on that issue.”

Sandy Theis, executive director of Progress Ohio – a progressive organization – said if Ryan “does want to run statewide as a Democrat, this certainly is an important step in the right direction.”

“Tim is really good on a lot of important issues – trade, economic development, and the environment,” she said. “And now he’s good on women’s health care.”

Matt Borges, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, said Ryan’s explanation was “typical politics,” and said “it should be an alert to Republicans and all of our voters who we are dealing with.”

Ryan’s decision carries political risk. Just before the 1990 Democratic gubernatorial primary, Democrat Anthony Celebrezze – who had been an abortion opponent throughout his political career — announced that he would favor abortion rights.

Celebrezze won the Democratic primary, but the switch dogged him throughout the general election and he was badly defeated by Republican George V. Voinovich.

“People do change their positions, but not always to their political advantage because … there are people who feel so strongly about that issue that he is taking a risk in losing the anti-abortion voters,” said Mary Anne Sharkey, a political consultant in Cleveland who has worked with both political parties.

“It’s easier to run for statewide office from a pro-choice position (in the Democratic primary),” Sharkey said. “There are a lot of Democratic women would never vote or support someone who has an anti-abortion record.”

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