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Women's Issues in the 2012 Vice Presidential Debate

VP Joe Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan Discuss Abortion and Choice


Updated October 12, 2012
Held on Thursday, October 11, 2012 at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, the 2012 vice presidential debate between Vice President Joe Biden and Republican nominee Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin was a heated exchange and far livelier than the previous week's presidential debate. Yet like that earlier exchange, women's issues barely came up.

Moderator Martha Raddatz, senior foreign affairs correspondent for ABC News, set down the guidelines of the debate: nine segments divided between domestic and foreign policy issues. Although she indicated she'd be bouncing back and forth between the two, Raddatz's background was obvious; her questions focused heavily on foreign policy issues. In order her first six questions dealt with Libya, Iran, the economy, Medicare and entitlements, taxes and Afghanistan. Not until her seventh question did she touch on a specific women's issue -- abortion -- which she couched in terms of the candidates' shared religious faith.

Raddatz alluded to the fact that this debate was historic because there were two Catholic vice presidential candidates in the race. She asked both men, "How did religion play a part in your decision making about abortion?" and urged them, "Please talk personally."

Paul Ryan opened by saying, "I don't see how a person can separate public and private life" and discussed his faith and its beliefs which include taking care of the vulnerable. Ryan stated he is pro-life "because of reason and science" and shared a story about he and his wife seeing the ultrasound of his first child at 7 weeks and seeing the heartbeat. He calls his eldest "Bean" because that's what she looked like.

He is upset with Obama administration because he's intruding on Catholic institutions. He claimed Obama supports abortion with no restrictions and with taxpayer funding. [Fact check: there is no taxpayer funding for abortion and has not been for over three decades thanks to the Hyde Amendment.] He says he opposes abortion except in the case of rape, incest, and when the mother's life is at stake. [Fact check: this is in opposition to his previous position in which he did not support abortion in the case of rape and incest.]

Joe Biden explained, "My religion defines who I am and I've been a practicing Catholic all my life." He cited the social doctrine of helping people who need help. On his beliefs about abortion and choice, he stated, "I accept my church's judgment that life begins at conception but I refuse to impose that on others unlike my friend here the congressman. I do not believe we have the right to tell women they can't control their bodies."

Regarding the Obama administration's policy on contraceptive coverage for women and religious institutions that do not want to provide such coverage, Biden clarified, "No religious institution...none has to refer contraception or pay for contraception....that is a fact."

When asked about the fact that his stated views on abortion are in opposition to what he previously stated regarding no exceptions for rape and incest, Ryan says he accepts Romney's position on abortion. As to how he'd handle Roe v. Wade, he explained, "We don't think that unelected judges should make that decision."

On the issue of abortion, Biden carefully pointed out, "The next president will get one or two nominees. That's how close Roe. v. Wade is." Biden alluded to Romney's choice of failed Supreme Court nominee Robert Bork to head up his Judicial Advisory Committee and noted he would support and choose someone to the far right. In response to Ryan's question as to whether or not there was a litmus test for the Obama administration, "We picked two open-minded people [Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan] who did not come with an agenda and we did not have a litmus test."

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