As I wrote over in the Denver Post this week, it was a clever move for Vice Presidential debate moderator Martha Raddatz to ask Joe Biden and Paul Ryan to get personal on abortion.
Both candidates are Catholic, so the stark difference in their responses revealed more about their politics than their spiritual beliefs — exactly what a debate should highlight.
Biden emphasized his respect for the separation of church and state, making a clear distinction between his religious views and policy decisions that would impact American women of all faiths. Biden said he accepts the Catholic Church’s teachings on abortion in his personal life, but won’t impose that viewpoint 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,” Biden said.
In contrast, Ryan made it clear that voters can expect his religious views to impact his political choices. “I don’t see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith,” Ryan said. “The policy of a Romney administration is to oppose abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.”
It’s pretty scary to think that Ryan can’t distinguish between his personal religious views and the way he thinks the country should be run –especially since less than 25% of Americans are Catholic.
Ironically, Ryan tried earlier in the debate to defend his tax policies by comparing himself to the nation’s first Catholic president, John F. Kennedy. But in the 1960 election, Kennedy clearly reassured nervous voters that the Catholic Pope would not be determining the country’s national agenda if he became President.
“I believe in a president whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation, or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office,” Kennedy said.
There were certainly more questions Raddatz could have asked both candidates about women’s rights and reproductive health. But if she had to ask just one question, clarifying each side’s position on abortion rights was the right one to pick.
Here’s why: Since the first Presidential debate, Romney has been gaining ground on Obama. In swing states like Colorado, where I live, those small shifts are crucial. Worse, Romney has been widening that lead with more flip-flopping in order to obscure his strong anti-abortion position, and seem more likable to women.
Last week, Romney told the Des Moines Register, “There’s no legislation with regards to abortion that I’m familiar with that would become part of my agenda.” Romney’s campaign quickly stepped in to reassure conservative Republicans that Romney is, no surprise, “a pro-life President.” But it was Ryan — who co-sponsored legislation to outlaw abortion even in cases of rape or to save a mother’s life – who drove the point home:
In the debate, Ryan also clarified his ticket’s opposition to Roe v. Wade – the Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal. “We don’t think that unelected judges should make this decision,” Ryan said. His statement echoes Romney’s web site, which says “the right next step is for the Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade.”
Given more Romney flip-flops on abortion in the past week, moderator Martha Raddatz wanted to be absolutely clear: “If the Romney-Ryan ticket is elected, should those who believe that abortion should remain legal be worried?” she asked.
Biden pointed out that the next president will likely appoint one or two Supreme Court nominees. “That’s how close Roe v. Wade is,” Biden said. “For Mr. Romney, who do you think he’s likely to appoint?”
Biden’s advice to voters: Watch the Supreme Court. He’s right. Romney’s potential power — and willingness — to not only sign anti-abortion legislation into law, but also create a Supreme Court hostile to women’s rights, is a threat we simply can’t afford to miss.
Read the full story in the Denver Post. Follow me on twitter: @LisaWirthman.