Tim Ryan

There are many factors involved when a woman decides to end a pregnancy, and over the past 14 years in political office, I have gained a deeper understanding of the complexities and emotions that accompany the difficult decisions that women and families make when confronted with these situations.

I was elected to political office at a young age, and being raised in a Catholic household, always considered myself pro-life. My faith is important to me, and like many Catholics I strive to adhere to its principles, especially one of the essential and highest teachings of “judge not, lest ye be judged.” I’ve heard firsthand from women of all ages, races and socioeconomic backgrounds about the circumstances and hardships that accompany this personal choice, which we should not judge.

I have sat with women from Ohio and across the nation and heard them talk about their varying experiences: abusive relationships, financial hardship, health scares, rape and incest. There are endless stories about women in troubling situations — the woman who became pregnant and has a violent spouse; the woman who lost her job and is unable to afford another child; or the underage girl worried she’ll be thrown out of her house if she reveals her pregnancy.

These are just a few of the many stories I have heard. Each of these women lived through difficult and personal situations with few options and no clear path to take. This is why there is no easy answer.

These women gave me a better understanding of how complex and difficult certain situations can become. And while there are people of good conscience on both sides of this argument, one thing has become abundantly clear to me: the heavy hand of government must not make this decision for women and families.

As my friend and colleague U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro says, “Nobody celebrates abortion.” No woman makes this decision lightly. Each and every American deserves the right to deal with these difficult situations in consultation with their families, close friends or religious advisers. No federal or state law banning abortion can honestly and fairly take into account the various circumstances that make each decision unique.

Where government does have the ability to play a significant role is in giving women and families the tools they need to prevent unintended pregnancies by expanding education and access to contraception. We must get past the ignorance, fear and — yes — discrimination against women that lead to restrictions on contraception and age-appropriate sex education.

Only then can we hope to continue to make significant advances in what should be our true, shared objective: reducing the number of unintended pregnancies, which make up the vast majority of abortions. Isn’t that a simple approach on which we all could agree? This is not a partisan issue, but instead a personal one.

During my time in Congress, I have authored and supported many proposals to help women prevent unplanned pregnancies, support prevention education, teach teens about values and healthy relationships and ensure access to contraception by increasing funding for family planning programs. We can all come together — Republicans, Democrats and independents — to create a comprehensive and common-sense legislative agenda that ensures new mothers have access to affordable health care, housing and healthy food. It is my hope that through these efforts abortions will rarely be necessary.

On June 12, 2014, my wife and I were blessed when our son, Brady Zetts Ryan, came into the world. With the birth of this healthy baby boy, our lives were forever changed. I’m mindful that my wife and I were fortunate enough to bring Brady into a prepared family full of love and devotion.

While I wish that for every child and every family, I know it is not always the case. Some couples are unprepared to become parents at that moment, and some families who are looking forward to a child may experience complications during the pregnancy. All these circumstances — and many more — require tough decisions. There are too many scenarios, too many variables and too much complexity for pregnancy to be anything but a personal decision.

Today, I am a 41-year-old father and husband whose feelings on this issue have changed. I have come a long way since being a single, 26-year-old state senator, and I am not afraid to say that my position has evolved as my experiences have broadened, deepened and become more personal. And 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.

I have come to believe that we must trust women and families — not politicians — to make the best decision for their lives.

Ryan, a Democrat, represents the 13th U.S. House District. It includes Youngstown, Warren, Ravenna and part of Akron.