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A Congressman once described as a “pro-life Democrat” has embraced abortion, crediting the birth of his first child and his Catholic faith as two of the reasons for his change of heart.

Rep. Tim Ryan also accused those who oppose sex education in the public schools, employer-subsidized birth control through ObamaCare, and expanding social welfare programs of “ignorance, fear, and – yes – discrimination against women.”

“I was elected to political office at a young age, and being raised in a Catholic household, always considered myself pro-life,” Ryan wrote in an op-ed entitled “Why I Changed My Thinking on Abortion,” published in yesterday's Akron Beacon-Journal. “Today, I am a 41-year-old father and husband whose feelings on this issue have changed.”

Ryan later told the Cleveland Plain Dealer that his thinking “crystallized over the course of our own kid being born.”

“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,” Ryan continued. “I would be abandoning my own conscience and judgment if I held a position that I no longer believed appropriate.”

The seven-term congressman said that speaking with post-abortive women “gave me a better understanding of how complex and difficult certain situations can become,” he wrote on Tuesday. While he and his wife “were fortunate enough to bring Brady into a prepared family full of love and devotion” and he would “wish that for every child and every family, I know it is not always the case.”

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

Instead, Ryan would like the government to “play a significant role” in giving women and underage girls “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,” Ryan wrote.

The Ohio Democrat, who is a devotee of Transcendental Meditation, added that his Roman Catholic formation helped convince him to embrace abortion. “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,'” Ryan wrote. “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.”

Thomas Peters of the American Papist blog tweeted in response:

Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards hailed Ryan's “honesty and courage.”

Ryan, whose northeast Ohio 13th U.S. House District includes Youngstown, is one of several Democrats who has expressed interest in running for U.S. Senate against incumbent Republican Rob Portman. While he has only $441,000 on hand, he told Roll Call that “the resources would be there,” and that he had been “cultivating relationships around the country for the past couple of years.”

Ryan denied politics entered his decision today, saying, “The reality is, this is just where my heart is right now.”

But his pro-life critics aren't buying it. “Congressman Ryan’s flip-flop on abortion clearly demonstrates his opportunistic and self-centered approach in seeking higher office,” Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, said in a statement first emailed to LifeSiteNews and later released to the wider media. “By callously and carelessly tossing aside his so-called strong Catholic upbringing and pro-life beliefs to now support abortion, sadly proves yet again that politicians will say anything and do anything to get elected or climb the political ladder. It is no wonder why Congress has the lowest approval rating in our nation’s history.”

Ryan compiled a largely pro-life voting record in the early years after entering Congress following the expulsion of the late Jim Traficant in 2002 – voting to ban partial birth abortion, forbid the use of tax dollars for abortion, stop the expansion of abortion on military bases, restrict transporting minors across state lines for abortions, bar human cloning, and to adopt the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. In 2004, Democrats for Life named Ryan one of its “Democrats for Life All-Stars.” (Attempts to reach Democrats for Life were not immediately returned.)

However, he also voted to expand embryonic stem cell research. Most recently, he voted against the Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would limit abortion to the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. By 2009, his voting record caused him to be “booted” (his term) off the national advisory board of Democrats for Life and labeled by National Right to Life's Douglas Johnson as a “pro-life impersonator.”

“Of course, Ryan was proudly 'pro-life' while easily getting re-elected in an otherwise gerrymandered district,” Gonidakis told LifeSiteNews. “But now as he seeks higher office, which we assume will be a challenge to pro-life Senator Rob Portman, he chooses to abandon those who helped him get elected in the first place.”

“Most alarming to all Ohioans, both pro-life and pro-choice, is that if he is willing to easily flip-flop on the fundamental issue of a baby’s life, what would he do with every other issue which faces our nation?” Gonidakis asked.

Ryan is not the first Democrat to change his position on abortion when seeking national office. Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Jesse Jackson, and Richard Gephardt, among others, opposed abortion funding or denounced abortion itself at early stages of their political careers.

His new position could prove politically challenging, as a 2013 poll showed Ohioans splitting evenly in their support for the far more restrictive Heartbeat bill.

“Congressman Ryan’s so-called conversion should be a wake-up call to voters in his current district, as well as the rest of Ohio, that he is nothing more than a political opportunist who will say anything to get elected,” Gonidakis concluded.

“Thankfully, Ohioans have rejected this type of politics and Congressman Ryan, I suspect, will soon learn of these consequences if he chooses to run for the U.S. Senate.”