All-Catholic vice presidential debate targets female voters with abortion, faith issues
While President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign attempts to pull female votes from the Romney-Ryan ticket by drawing attention to their pro-life views, vice-presidential debate moderator Martha Raddatz probed the vice presidential candidates Thursday night on their respective abortion positions and on how their religion — both men are Catholic — has informed their decisions.
Republican Rep. Paul Ryan said while his faith informs his life, his pro-life views also stem from science. Vice President Joe Biden focused on Catholicism’s pro-life stance as his personal belief which he said he would not impose on others.
“I don’t see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith. Our faith informs us in everything we do,” Ryan said.
“My faith informs me about how to take care of the vulnerable, how to make sure that people have a chance in life,” he continued, explaining that while his Catholic faith is important, “reason and science” also played a part in reaching his pro-life view.
Ryan recounted an ultrasound appointment when his firstborn child was a seven-week pregnancy as evidence of the science behind his conviction.
“We saw that heartbeat and our little baby was in the shape of a bean. And to this day we have nicknamed our first child Liza ‘bean,’” Ryan said. “Now, I believe life begins at conception.”
The Republican hammered the Obama administration’s treatment of religious institutions in implementing the Affordable Care Act and the Democratic Party’s unfettered approach to abortion, including policies that pay for abortions with taxpayer dollars.
“Look at what they are doing through Obamacare with respect to assaulting the religious liberties of this country,” Ryan said. “They are infringing upon our first freedom, the freedom of religion by infringing on Catholic charities, Catholic churches, Catholic hospitals. Our church should not have to sue our federal government to maintain their religious liberties.”
Ryan reminded the audience that Biden recently refused to question China’s one-child policy.
Biden countered that his Catholic faith informed his personal life but didn’t force him into a pro-life public policy position.
“With regard to abortion, I accept my church’s position on abortion as what we call a ‘de fide’ doctrine: life begins at conception. That’s the church’s judgement I accept in my personal life,” Biden said.
“But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews. I just refuse to impose it on others, unlike my friend here, the congressman.”
Biden went on to explain that he believes abortion is a decision to be made between “a woman and her doctor” and defended the Obama administration against Ryan’s claim that its mandated contraception coverage policy has targeted Catholics.
“With regard to the assault on the Catholic Church, let me make it absolutely clear: No religious institution, Catholic or otherwise, including Catholic Social Services, Georgetown Hospital, Mercy Hospital — any hospital — none has to either refer contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide. That is a fact.”
Ryan disagreed. “If they [the Catholic Church] agree with you, why would they keep suing you?”
Debate moderator Martha Raddatz jumped in, re-directing the question back to the abortion issue itself.
When Ryan said he and Romney do not want unelected judges deciding the issue, Biden noted the importance of Supreme Court appointments in the next presidential term.
Following the first presidential debate last week, female voter approval of Romney increased by 18 percentage points, tying Obama among the important voting bloc where Romney had long trailed.
This week the Obama campaign has highlighted what it claims are the Republican ticket’s extreme views on abortion, a strategy which is targeted at pulling female votes away from Romney.
The pro-life and pro-choice factions offered predictable reactions to the exchange. Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, attacked Ryan for his pro-life position.
“Ryan’s responses to questions about whether women should have the ability to make decisions about their own health care reinforce the serious threat Mitt Romney’s presidency poses for women’s health,” Keenan said in a statement. “He refused to say whether American women should be worried about the future of their reproductive freedoms if he and Gov. Romney win the White House. Let me be clear: The Romney-Ryan ticket is extremely dangerous to women’s health and Americans should be very concerned about the future of women’s health and rights if Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan win on November 6.”
Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List, praised Ryan for his commitment to the pro-life position. She also blasted Biden for disregarding Catholics who struggle with the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate.
“Vice President Biden grossly misled the viewers and brushed over legitimate objections by people of all faiths to this administration’s unprecedented assault on religious organizations and individuals,” Dannenfelser said in a statement.
“The HHS preventative services mandate forces Americans of faith and conscience to violate their beliefs and be directly responsible for paying for insurance programs which cover abortion-inducing drugs. Coverage for such drugs is not preventative women’s healthcare and the vice president’s response tonight demonstrated a shocking disregard for our first freedom.”
Follow Caroline on Twitter