Paul Ryan Softens Anti-Abortion Stance as 'Good Step in the Right Direction'

(Image Credit: John Heller/AP Photo)

In Flight Between Roanoke, Va., and Raleigh, N.C. - Staunch anti-abortion congressman Paul Ryan said today he's comfortable with Mitt Romney's less-rigid stance on abortion now that he shares the GOP presidential ticket because it's a "good step in the right direction."

Romney believes abortion should be legal in cases of rape or incest, or when the mother's life is in danger. Ryan had taken the position that all abortions, even in the case of rape and incest, should be outlawed, only extending exceptions to protecting the mother's life.

"Look, I'm proud of my record," the Wisconsin congressman said at a brief news conference on his plane. "I'm proud of my record. Mitt Romney is going to be president and the president sets policy. His policy is exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother. I'm comfortable with it because it's a good step in the right direction."

He wouldn't say he regretted abortion legislation he co-sponsored with Rep. Todd Akin of Missouri, explaining that he is "proud of my pro-life record I have."

"That bill passed, I think, by 251 votes," Ryan said. "It was bipartisan. I think HR-3 is the one you are talking about. I think we had 251 votes, 16 Democrats, I am proud of my pro-life record I have."

The unsuccessful legislation was co-sponsored by Akin and Ryan and also 225 other members of the House. The measure would have ensured no federal funds even indirectly supported abortions performed nationwide. An earlier version of the measure had sought to redefine rape for purposes of exemption of the funding ban under the Hyde Amendment, drawing sharp criticism from women's rights groups and Democrats.

The language would have allowed for subsidized abortions only in cases of "forcible rape," and limited exempt cases of incest to only those involving minors, although that provision was dropped from the bill.

Meanwhile, Ryan called Akin earlier in the week to try to persuade him to get out of the Missouri Senate race after his controversial comments about "legitimate rape" and pregnancy.

Ryan said he wanted to keep their conversation "between us."

"But I agree with Roy and Jack Danforth [the former U.S. senator] and the rest of the people from the Missouri delegation, current and former, that he should have dropped out of the race," Ryan said.

"But he is not, he is going to run his campaign and we are going to run ours." He said he has "no plans" to talk to Akin again.

Obama campaign spokeswoman Lis Smith today said that as a "Republican leader in the House, Paul Ryan worked with Todd Akin to try to narrow the definition of rape and outlaw abortion even for rape victims. He may hope that American women never learn about this record, but they deserve an answer to why he wanted to redefine rape and remove protections for rape victims."

Before his flight, Ryan today campaigned in the city of President Obama's "you didn't build that" remark last month, seizing the opportunity to remind small-business owners in Roanoke, Va., that such comments explain "why our economy's not growing like it should. It tells us the mindset that he's using to lead our government."

Introduced by the man who refused to let Vice President Joe Biden hold a campaign event in his bakery last week, the Republican vice presidential running mate said, "There's this guy I've known for a number of years; I'm going to be talking to him in mid-October," Ryan told a crowd of more than 1,000 people in the parking lot of a hardware store, a reference to the Oct. 11 vice presidential debate.

"Joe Biden, you might have heard of him. He just said that the middle class is coming back. We've got 23 million people out of work, struggling to find work today, unemployment has been above 8 percent for 42 months, and the real unemployment rate is more like 15 percent.

"He said last summer was going to be the summer of recovery. It's a summer later and it's still worse. He said that the private sector is doing just fine, we need more government. This is President Obama's imaginary recovery. It's not here."

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It was the president who said the "private sector is doing just fine," not Biden, and Obama quickly clarified his comments when they created a firestorm earlier in the summer.

Chris McMurray, owner of the Crumb and Get It bakery, introduced Ryan today, telling members of Biden's advance team that it was "nothing personal," but he didn't want to hold Biden's event there, vaulting him into local Republican stardom.

"You may remember a month or so ago our president stood in this very city and he proclaimed the message that if you have a business, you didn't build it," McMurray said.

"We are gathered here today to send the message to the Obama-Biden team that we did build it."

Ryan said the comments are indicative of the president's "philosophy of government."

"Here in Roanoke, where he did say if you have a small business you did not build that someone else did, but it's an explanation," Ryan, dressed in his signature blue shirt and khakis, said.

"It tells us why our economy's not growing like it should. It tells us the mindset that he's using to lead our government. It tells us that he believes in a government-centered society with a government-driven economy. That doesn't work. It never has worked."

Speaking in Roanoke last month, the president pushed the importance of continued government investments in public services and infrastructure on which many U.S. businesses rely to succeed.

"If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. … Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business - you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen," Obama said at a Roanoke fire station.

Republicans have seized on the line "you didn't build that" consistently since the words came out of his mouth to claim that Obama was speaking directly to business owners about their businesses, instead of focusing on the community and infrastructure that helped owners build their businesses.

As he has since joined the Romney ticket more than a week ago, Ryan also sounded a populist tone, criticizing both Republicans and Democrats. This time it was for the tax code, describing it as a "mess" and pledging to make it fairer.

"The tax code punishes all those qualities that make us great - saving, investing, working, taking risks," Ryan said.

"What has happened over the years because of both political parties, Republicans and Democrats alike, have put in so many interest group loopholes, have been picking winners and losers through government regulations, through government spending, and through the tax code. We've got to clean that mess up."

Ryan's trip to Roanoke marked the fourth day of campaigning here in the 12 days he has been a candidate. In 2008, Obama won Virginia, the first Democrat to win the state in a presidential race since 1964. Both campaigns see it as part of their pathway to victory and Ryan's focus on the state shows how determined the Romney campaign is to flip the state back to red

"I've been coming to Virginia a lot these days, if you haven't noticed that," Ryan said.

"It is not too late to ignite the American dream. We can do this. We need the leadership now. We need to win this election. And Virginians of all people have a unique responsibility and an opportunity to deliver Virginia and save the American idea."