Biden and Ryan debate abortion and the role Catholicism plays in their positions

When Martha Raddatz asked Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) Thursday night about their religion, it was … Continued

When Martha Raddatz asked Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) Thursday night about their religion, it was the right thing to do.

“We have two Catholic candidates, first time on a stage such as this,” she said. “And I would like to ask you both to tell me what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion.”

After the debate, MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell  criticized her for bringing up religion, saying  it had no place in a presidential  debate.

But how could it not? This entire campaign has been dominated by religious references from all of the candidates, although Obama has probably discussed his the least.  It is a crucial question when religion informs the lives of candidates and their political positions. Abortion is one of these.

Ryan answered first. “I don’t see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or their faith,” he said.”Our faith informs us in everything we do.

It was as if the concept of church and state were alien to him. And it was very revealing.

“…why am I pro-life?” he asked. It’s not simply because of my Catholic faith. That’s a factor, of course. But it’s also because of reason and science….I believe that life begins at conception….I respect people who don’t agree with me, but the policy of a Romney administration will be to oppose abortion with the exception for rape, incest, and life of the mother.”

That’s a very different tune he is singing now than before he was selected as Romney ‘s running mate. Before that he was against abortion under any conditions.

Biden had a very different answer.

 “My religion defines who I am,” he said, “and I’ve been a practicing Catholic my whole life….With regard to abortion, I accept my church’s position on abortion…life begins at conception in the church’s judgement. I accept it in my personal life. But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews. I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that – women – they can’t control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor. In my view, and in the Supreme Court, I’m not going to interfere with that.”

Biden pointed out that “he (Ryan) has  argued that in the case of rape or incest it was still – it would be — a crime to engage in having an abortion.”

There couldn’t be a better example of the difference of the two men or their ticket than that.

Ryan, a Catholic who believes in the consciences of his convictions, managed to get over the fact that a life is a life after he was chosen as Romney’s running mate.  Now, a fetus is only a life if it is not conceived by rape or incest.  It’s okay by him now, to murder innocent life, as he sees it, as long as that’s Romney’s position.

The irony here is that Romney and Ryan are Republicans. Their politics are defined by the idea of smaller government and less interference in people’s lives, and by the concept of religious freedom. Yet here they are, telling people of other faiths or no faith, what they can do in the most intimate part of their lives based on their own personal religious beliefs.

“Should those who believe that abortion should remain legal be worried?” asked Raddatz.

Ryan was quick to respond.  “We don’t think unelected judges should make this decision,” he said.

“Keep an eye on the Supreme Court,” said Biden.

It’s all about freedom.

How could this not be the most revealing and informative subject of the debate?



Sally Quinn Sally Quinn is the founding editor of OnFaith.
  • abenkelley

    Lawrence O’Donnell often makes good sense, but on this one his reaction cited by Ms. Quinn – that religion has no place in the debates – is superficial and wrong. It has a central place in the debates because candidates on the right have made it a cornerstone of their views, proposals, and campaigns, and because the activist roles played by Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan in their religious establishments have clearly influenced their views on public policy. American voters have a right and a duty to understand the religious influences that presidential-ticket candidates may bring to their offices. As a staunch believer in the essential need to keep church and state at arms’ length from one another and to promote a secular, broadly tolerant attitude by government toward the governed, I am deeply concerned that Messrs Romney and Ryan will act to bring a dangerous tinge of theocracy to the White House. We don’t need that problem added to those already challenging the American experiment in the twenty-first century.

  • stephen34

    One of the most lucid comments of the day on this topic. Thanks.

  • djp11


    Your comment is a diamond in the rough. Too bad, however, that the majority who swarm here on WaPo aren’t interested whatsoever in (to quote stephen34) “lucid comments”. Your well stated insight is appreciated and understood.

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