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U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (R) and Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan shake hands at the conclusion of the vice-presidential debate in Danville, Kentucky on October 11th. (POOL/REUTERS)
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (R) and Republican vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan shake hands at the conclusion of the vice-presidential debate in Danville, Kentucky on October 11th. (POOL/REUTERS)

Globe editorial

Ryan would force some women to choose between their health and jail Add to ...

The Republican position on abortion is to oppose nearly all of them, a position that Mitt Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, voiced during the vice-presidential debate Thursday night.

“The policy of a Romney administration will be to oppose abortions with the exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother,” Mr. Ryan said.

It’s a troubling position on a number of levels, even if it is slightly less extreme than his personal opposition, in principle, to abortion after rape or incest. Mr. Ryan does not even say “life or health” of the mother – just “life.” So, women whose health, physical or mental, may be at risk would have to choose, potentially, between a jail sentence and their health. That would be a rank injustice.

By comparison, the Canadian abortion law that was struck down by the Supreme Court of Canada in 1988 permitted abortions when a woman’s “life or health” was at risk. The court’s majority ruled that law unconstitutional because the process for deciding whether a particular woman’s life or health were at risk was arbitrary and unfair.

The 1973 U.S. ruling known as Roe v. Wade that established a woman’s qualified right to an abortion went further than the Canadian ruling: It found that women’s right to choose is anchored in the U.S. Constitution’s protection of privacy rights. Its protection went far beyond life or health of the mother. “There is also the distress, for all concerned, associated with the unwanted child, and there is the problem of bringing a child into a family already unable, psychologically and otherwise, to care for it,” Justice Harry Blackmun wrote for the majority.

Mr. Ryan showed himself to be an articulate and thoroughly informed spokesman for his party’s views on all issues – domestic and foreign, economic and social. He stayed calm even though his Democratic counterpart, Joseph Biden, laughed incredulously almost whenever Mr. Ryan spoke. But his extreme position on abortion is disconcerting. “We don’t think that unelected judges should make this decision,” he said. The most obvious next step is to appoint Supreme Court judges who have the same view. On this issue, the Republicans would take the country backward.

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