Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul is escorted to a ballroom to speak to his supporters during the California Republican Party Convention this September in Los Angeles. The Texas congressman was once a small-town doctor who specialized in delivering babies.
Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images
Creating work for unemployed Americans will be the top priority for whoever wins the 2012 presidential race. In a series of profiles, NPR looks at a key job that each Republican presidential contender held before running for office.
Sixth in a series
Republican presidential candidate and Texas Congressman Ron Paul is known for his fervent opposition to armed intervention overseas and the Federal Reserve — and for his equally fervent supporters.
And while those supporters may want him to be the next president for different reasons, they're all well aware that before entering politics, Paul was a doctor back in the southeast Texas district he represents in the U.S. House.
"I think that by being a doctor he's able to address the root causes and not just treat the symptoms of these problems that we're facing as Americans," says Sean Donovan, a supporter from Boston. "And I think that it is truly admirable, his willingness to go that extra step and have a principled approach, and that he doesn't pander to his audience."
Others are simply impressed by his medical resume.
"I think it's pretty cool that he delivered over 4,000 babies, and I think that gives him a leg up on understanding health care issues," says Donna Rode, of Halifax, Pa.
And he really did deliver 4,000 babies, says Donna Paul, who worked as Ron Paul's scrub nurse for 14 years in Lake Jackson, Texas, before marrying one of the doctor's brothers and becoming his sister-in-law.
"They kind of figured it out; it was like one a day for a long time, and I said, 'No, it's more like one a night,' " she says.
Ron Paul, shown in this screen shot taken from his website, says he delivered more than 4,000 babies in the Texas district where he used to practice.
Born: Aug. 20, 1935 in Pittsburgh
Family: Married to Carol Paul since 1957; five children, Ronald, Lori, Rand, Robert and Joy; 18 grandchildren
Education: Gettysburg College, B.S. (1957); Duke University School of Medicine, M.D. (1961)
Career: Flight surgeon in the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard; medical doctor in private practice
Elected Office: U.S. House of Representatives (1976-1977; 1979-1985; 1997-present)
Indeed, says Donna Paul, when Ron Paul first set up shop in 1968, he was the only obstetrician in town. "So he went for like three years without ever leaving Lake Jackson; 24-7," she says. "He had no [other doctor] to sign out to."
Eventually Paul got so busy he took on a partner. Jack Pruett, who was then fresh out of his obstetrics/gynecology residency, says when he first sat down in Paul's office, he was told there were two stipulations he would have to agree to before joining the practice.
"He said, 'No. 1 is we will not perform any abortions.' And I said, 'That's fine; I can live with that. What's No. 2?' " he remembers.
No. 2, says Pruett, was that the practice would not participate in any federal health programs, which meant, as Paul described it, "that we will see all Medicare and Medicaid patients free of charge, and they will be treated just like all of our other patients, but we're not going to charge them and accept federal funds."
Still in debt from his medical training, Pruett said that was a little harder for him to swallow. "But I liked Ron, so I decided that I would agree to that, too. And in all those 20 years, we never accepted one penny of federal money. We saw all those patients for free, delivered their babies free, did their surgeries free; whatever they needed we did, and we didn't charge them."
Of course, Lake Jackson being a small town, occasionally Paul would get paid in other ways.
"Some of the people would bring chickens, or they would bring vegetables from their garden if they couldn't afford to pay for their obstetrical fee," recalls Richard Hardoin, a pediatrician who used to care for the babies Paul delivered.
In the mid-1970s, Paul decided to run for Congress to fill an unexpected vacancy — and won. But he didn't give up his practice, at least not at first.
"Back in those years Congress didn't work on Friday, and so every Friday he would fly back to Lake Jackson," says Pruett, "and he would help me then on Friday and Saturday, and oftentimes take call on Sunday, and oftentimes catch the red-eye back to Washington on Monday. And I guess he did that every single week for nine years."
But he's never changed any of his long-held views for political gain, say those who knew him then.
Abortion is a good example. Although he ran for president as a libertarian in 1988, Paul breaks with most members of that party (and many in his medical specialty) in that he opposes the procedure.
In a speech before the Ames Straw Poll in Iowa in August, Paul said he turned against abortion during his medical training in the 1960s, when many doctors were doing abortions in violation of the laws at the time.
"One day I walked into an operating room, and they did a hysterotomy, which is a cesarean section, lifted out a baby that was crying and breathing, and put it in a bucket in the corner of the room and let it die, and pretended nobody heard it," he told the audience.
Meanwhile, just down the hall, he said, a baby about the same size was being born prematurely, he said, "and all of a sudden 20 people, nurses and doctors, all [were] rushing around to save the baby's life, which seemed very logical."
Paul said he reached an inescapable conclusion from that event: "We cannot play God and make those decisions; all life is precious."
But Paul doesn't toe the anti-abortion line as zealously as some of his fellow GOP candidates. He wouldn't ban the so-called morning-after pill, for example, which some activists say prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman's uterus.
"There are circumstances where doctors in the past have used certain day-after pills for somebody with rape, and quite frankly, if somebody is treated, you don't even know if a person is pregnant, you don't even know if there's a disease; but if it's 24 hours after rape, I don't know how you're going to police it," he said. "It doesn't make any sense to me in a practical matter."
One position that probably does satisfy both Republicans and libertarians, however, is that Paul believes that all health insurance should be voluntary.
And if an uninsured 30-year-old needs expensive medical care? That was the hypothetical posed by CNN's Wolf Blitzer at the debate co-sponsored by the Tea Party Express in September.
Replied Paul: "That's what freedom is all about; taking your own risks. This whole idea that you have to prepare and take care of everybody ..."
Paul said "no" when Blitzer interrupted to ask if he meant that "society should just let him die?"
But it turns out the case wasn't so hypothetical. In 2008, 49-year-old Kent Snyder, who ran Paul's presidential bid that year, was struck by pneumonia. He died a few weeks later — without health insurance — and reportedly with more than $400,000 in unpaid hospital bills.
Even that, however, hasn't made a dent in Paul's position.
And as he's proved over and over again in both his medical and political careers, Paul has satisfied his constituency by taking positions and sticking to them.