When Martha Raddatz finally got around to asking Joe Biden and Paul Ryan to speak about abortion, at the tail end of the vice-presidential debate last night, she disappointed some by asking them to speak about the issue "personally." As if they could. As if she would need to ask this question if the kind of people who could speak about abortion personally — women — had historically occupied their share of elected offices. But by highlighting the candidates' shared Catholic faith as a point of entry to abortion, Raddatz gave the two men an opening to debate the questions of religious freedom surrounding reproductive rights.
“We have two Catholic candidates, first time on a stage such as this, and I would like to ask you both to tell me what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion,” she said. “Please talk about how you came to that decision. Talk about how your religion played a part in that.”
Ryan started things off by saying that he didn't see how "a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith." That said, he’s pro-life not just for religious reasons, but “because of reason and science.” Here it seemed that Ryan forgot to make a rational scientific case for life at conception and instead told a painfully rehearsed anecdote about the origins of his daughter’s nickname, “Bean”: The fetus on the ultrasound at seven weeks resembled one. (Personal enough?)
Spouting what Biden characterized as a new, moderate theory of abortion, Ryan said “the policy of a Romney administration will be to oppose abortion with the exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother,” and launched into some tangential points about Obamacare’s assault on the freedom of the Catholic church and taxpayer-funded abortions. (Medicare and Medicaid don’t guarantee coverage of abortions except in the Romney-approved instances of rape, incest, and life of the mother.)
As for Biden, he attributed his personal beliefs to the Catholic Church, but mercifully elected to spare the rest of us its medieval “de fide” doctrines. “Life begins at conception. That’s the church’s judgment. I accept it in my personal life,” he said. “But I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews and — I just refuse to impose that on others, unlike my friend here, the congressman.” He went on: “I do not believe that — that we have a right to tell other people that women, they — they can't control their body. It's a decision between them and their doctor, in my view. And the Supreme Court — I'm not going to interfere with that.”
Asked if people who believe abortion should be legal should be worried if Romney-Ryan wins, Ryan essentially said, not as along as they live in a Godless blue state. “We don’t think that unelected judges should make this decision,” Ryan said, “that people, through their elected representatives and reaching a consensus in society through the democratic process, should make this determination.” His answer spoke to the current prevailing strategy among anti-choice groups: legislate Roe v. Wade within an inch of its life on the state level in order to drastically limit Americans’ access to abortion, thereby making abortion’s constitutional status all but academic.
Romney, too, has said he would not federally legislate abortion, but last night Biden reminded independent voters that the next president will get to nominate one or two Supreme Court justices, potentially tipping the scales on a woman’s right to choose. “That’s how close Roe v. Wade is,” Biden said. He also name-checked Robert Bork, Romney’s chief legal adviser, who called the landmark decision a “wholly unjustifiable judicial usurpation of state legislative authority,” and whom Joe Biden fought to keep off the Supreme Court when he was nominated in 1987. “Who do you think he's likely to appoint?” Biden asked. “Do you think he's likely to appoint someone like Scalia or someone else on the court, far right, that would outlaw Planned — excuse me — outlaw abortion? I suspect that would happen.”