MSNBC "Hardball With Chris Matthews" Interview With Rep. Tim Ryan; Rep. Rosa Delauro; James Carroll, Author
Interviewer: Chris Matthews
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MR. MATTHEWS: We begin with President Obama at Notre Dame and the debate over abortion.
Author James Carroll's new book is called "Practicing Catholic." He's a great novelist, of course. And U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro is a Democrat from Connecticut who supports abortion rights, and U.S. Congressman Tim Ryan is a Democrat from Ohio who opposes abortion rights. They're working together, however, on legislation to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and thereby reduce the number of abortions.
I want to start with Congressman Tim Ryan.
First of all, let's look at what the president said at Notre Dame on this very important question, looking for common ground on this very important issue. Here he is at Notre Dame yesterday.
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: (From videotape.) So let us work together to reduce the number of women seeking abortions. Let's reduce unintended pregnancies. (Applause.)
MR. MATTHEWS: Well, I think, Congressman, and I think, Congresswoman, we'd all agree, and certainly, I think, James Carroll, that it'd be nice -- in fact, I don't even want to underestimate the moral importance of it'd be good -- good, period -- to have a lot less abortion in this country. I think that's a general commentary without making a moral statement. We just would like to see that happen, most people -- most people. And the question, is it doable without outlawing abortion? Do you believe that's possible, Congressman Ryan?
REP. RYAN: I sure do. I think if we focus on the kind of common-sense measures, prevent unintended pregnancies -- most abortions are performed on women who live within 200 percent of the poverty level, so this is really about access to prevention.
So I think if we focus on that, we fund those programs that will provide that kind of access, and at the same time, incentivize adoption and those social-service programs that, if a woman does get pregnant, she has the wherewithal to bring the baby to term, know that the baby will have health care, make sure that if she's in college that there are child care centers at the college campus; all of those things -- nurses for newborns -- those programs that would encourage the woman to bring the baby to term. So prevent it as much as you possibly can, and then, if you still have a situation, adoption and those social programs to incentivize them to bring the baby to term.
I think it is completely doable. And, quite frankly, I think Barack Obama is the leader, the transformational leader, that could make it happen.
MR. MATTHEWS: You know, I was looking for numbers today, Congresswoman DeLauro, about the number of abortions in this country. We've got an estimate from the CDC of over 800,000. That was four or five years ago. Let's say it's up to about a million now. The question is, how do we deal with it? Four out of five people apparently who have abortions are not married, so they're people that I assume are not intending to get pregnant, I assume.
And therefore the question is, how do we help them not get pregnant? And then it brings in the question of birth control as well as abstinence. How do you bridge the gap between pro-life and pro- choice people, to use those short-hand terms, on this issue?
REP. DELAURO: Well, I think that Congressman Ryan, my colleague -- together what we've tried to put together is a piece of legislation that deals both with prevention and contraception and the kinds of economic programs that will allow, you know, a family to bring a child to term and to have the economic wherewithal to be able to do it.
But it is a combination, as Tim Ryan pointed out, of prevention. And if you don't want to deal with the issue of prevention or contraception, then you may not be serious about wanting to reduce that need for abortions or unintended pregnancies.
And I think the president's speech was really history in the sense that it -- for those of us who care a lot about Catholic education and the whole position of bringing unity and respect to very, very divergent opinions on a volatile issue. You know, he demonstrated his ability to address very, very tough issues. He did it in the campaign when he took head-on the issue of race, and now he's taken on another very, very contentious issue in this nation, divisive, and that is abortion. (But in fact that you can ?) find common ground.
Tim Ryan and I and others who support this legislation have worked very, very hard over the last couple of years to look at how, in fact, we can -- to move the dialogue forward, get beyond the constitutionality issue, move the debate forward, find that common ground and try to bring some sense to this.
MR. MATTHEWS: Let's talk -- this is "Hardball," so let's talk turkey. The problem here is trying to find common ground here on an issue which is so morally consequential to so many people. Without generalizing, it's so consequential to so many people. Some would like to outlaw it. There are some people out there who would like to criminalize abortion out there somewhere. Certainly people would like to criminalize doctors who perform it.
REP. DELAURO: But that's not the majority. It's not the majority, Chris, if you want --
MR. MATTHEWS: I know. I'm saying there are people that disagree on this issue.
REP. DELAURO: Sure.
MR. MATTHEWS: It's so hot. I want to ask you -- you can go first on this -- it seems to me one way to reduce unwanted pregnancies is birth control. The Catholic Church is against birth control. I don't think they hold it with the same degree of gravity or severity morally as abortion, but I don't want to speak as a cleric because I'm not one; I'm a layman. But is there any way that we could get past this issue of unwanted pregnancies without some resort at some level to birth control?
REP. RYAN: Yes. To me, Chris?
MR. MATTHEWS: I'll go to you, Congressman Ryan, because I think you're pro-life and I think you may have a problem on your side with birth control. But if we don't have people practicing birth control or abstinence, they're going to have pregnancies. And the cases that we're looking at statistically, unwanted pregnancies, which leads to abortion in so many cases, up to a million a year, what are we going to do to stop it?
REP. RYAN: Without any question, you can't have this conversation and deal in reality and not talk about birth control. We have to have birth control and contraception offered to these poor women who don't have access to contraception, period, dot. There's no other way that we're going to be able to reduce it --
MR. MATTHEWS: Who pays for it? How does it get done? How do you get people to, A, use it, want to use it, and buy it?
REP. RYAN: Well, I think --
MR. MATTHEWS: They have to pay for it and they have to want to use it. How do you make that happen in a free society?
REP. RYAN: Well, I think you can fund it through Title X. You can fund it through a lot of public health organizations.
And I think it's important that we do that. I mean, there's no way we can --
MR. MATTHEWS: Well, why isn't it getting done now? Why are we arguing about a country that has a million abortions a year and everybody says it's a big problem and yet nobody's doing anything, it seems, on this issue?
REP. RYAN: Because the debate has always consisted of pro- choice/pro-life. One side doesn't want anything to change and the other side wants to put doctors and women in prison. And I think the transformational effect of our legislation that Rosa and I have put together over the past three or four years, the speech that Barack Obama gave yesterday, puts us into a new --
MR. MATTHEWS: Okay --
REP. RYAN: -- realm. And the discussion now is going to be, "Are you for reducing the number of abortions" --
MR. MATTHEWS: Okay --
REP. RYAN: -- "or are you for having the same bitter fight that we had over the last 35 years?"
MR. MATTHEWS: Okay, let's --
REP. DELAURO: Chris, you cannot --
REP. RYAN: Those are the two --
MR. MATTHEWS: I want to get the numbers, like we do with everything else, numbers.
REP. DELAURO: Chris -- Chris, you cannot --
MR. MATTHEWS: First of all, Congresswoman, let me get the numbers.
REP. DELAURO: Chris, you cannot be serious about wanting to reduce the need for abortion without dealing with contraception. And your public, the public, the American people, understand that very well.
MR. MATTHEWS: Okay, let me go to James Carroll --
REP. RYAN: And Chris, may I --
MR. MATTHEWS: -- who's not running for office. I've got to talk to James Carroll.
James, it seems to me, you're a novelist and a writer and a thinker on these issues, and you were a priest for a number of years. Let me ask you this question. We have to have metrics here. If we're going to talk about a third way to the issue of pro-choice/pro-life arguments that never ended, maybe should never end, we have to get to some vast reduction in the number of abortions as a reality.
It seems to me that that ought to be tested. If the president is serious about this, we ought to hold his feet to the fire. "Let's see you do it. There's about a million abortions a year. You cut them. You say you can do it. Do it." It seems to me that's a reasonable debate. Is it credible? Is it going to work? Is anybody going to keep this guy's feet on the fire?
MR. CARROLL: That's what's so wonderful about his having gone to Notre Dame yesterday, because he was speaking to and for and about the Catholic people. And the Catholic people have made a profound decision against the bishops to embrace contraception and birth control.
We understand that the answer to abortion has to be the reduction of unwanted pregnancies, and birth control is a crucial part of that. And that is, in a sense, the crucial Catholic problem. As long as the bishops conflate birth control and abortion as grave moral failings, the Catholic Church is not going to be helping to resolve this problem.
The great thing about President Obama's appearance yesterday was it was the Catholic Church visible in this country as it really is. The people have already moved away from the teaching of the bishops on this question.
MR. MATTHEWS: Well, you say the bishops, but the Humanae Vitae by Pope Paul VI basically said abortions -- I mean, birth control is wrong; contraception is wrong. So how do the bishops get independent of that?
MR. CARROLL: Well, Humanae Vitae in 1968 was a disastrous mistake by the Vatican. It was, as one cardinal at the Second Vatican Council called it, a new Galileo affair. And it's obvious that the church has to step back from Humanae Vitae. The Catholic people already have.
MR. MATTHEWS: Well, that's easy for you to say. James, that's easy for you to say. You're not wearing a collar right now. And I just wonder -- (laughs) --
MR. CARROLL: Well, it's true. It's true. But --
MR. MATTHEWS: Rosa DeLauro, you come in here, because this is not -- I'm not going to have a facile discussion here. This is real. You have a church-state issue here. You could argue it. But it seems to me logically, if people believe that abortion is worse morally -- and I think most people who have a problem with this issue and believe this, who are Catholic, certainly, than birth control, they've got to choose something here, or not, or just step back and have this debate for the rest of our lives. I don't know what the answer is.
You're the politician, Rosa.
REP. DELAURO: The future on this issue was in that audience at Notre Dame, the thunderous applause when the president talked about trying to find that common ground, when he talked about, you know, understanding that women come to this issue with difficulty, with a lot of reflection, and that we have to take those things into consideration and that we need to be able to look at how we do reduce that need. And we have legislation that addresses that. We've tried to move forward beyond that debate. And James Carroll was right. The American people, American Catholics, have moved forward on this issue with regard to birth control and contraception.
MR. MATTHEWS: Congresswoman first -- or Congressman Ryan first. Is it fair to judge your program by its success? Can you reduce the number of abortions down from about a million a year dramatically by this third way? Can you do it, and should you be judged by your success, not by your intentions?
REP. RYAN: I totally think we can do it, and I totally believe we will have a dramatic reduction. I don't know if you can pinpoint exactly the number, but most abortions are performed on women that live within 200 percent of the poverty (level). This is about access to birth control. And if we can join together and fund these programs that take care of that, we will see a dramatic reduction.
And then the other decision that women face, whether or not they'll have an abortion, is on economics. And if we say that if you bring this baby to term, we will increase the incentives for adoption, we will make sure that there are a program called Nurses for Newborns, so if you're a first-time mother, you'll know how to deal with it. The SCHIP program, Medicaid, all of these health care programs, child care centers on college campuses, encourage the woman to bring the baby to term. We can do this. This is totally doable, but it's going to take the kind of leadership that Barack's providing.
MR. MATTHEWS: I know. Okay, I'm -- I have never -- I really support the efforts of both you pro-life and pro-choice politicians. I worry about this being a case of Liza Doolittle and Henry Huggins and words, words, words. I think we all agree it's time for something besides this debate, which never ends. And it's a worthwhile debate, but it never ends between --
REP. DELAURO: This is what we've intended to do, Chris. This is precisely what we intended to do with this legislation.
MR. MATTHEWS: Thank you. I have to leave now. We'll come back on this in a couple of months --
REP. DELAURO: Thank you.
MR. MATTHEWS: -- and see how it's going, Rosa DeLauro, U.S. congresswoman from Connecticut, and Tim Ryan, U.S. congressman from Ohio, a Republican (sic). Ms. DeLauro is a Democrat.
The book, by the way, by James Carroll, one of the great writers of our time, is called "Practicing Catholic." You know what it's about. You can't miss the title of that book. I like books that explain what they're about. Thank you very much, James Carroll, for joining us from Boston.