Karen Ocamb

The Importance of Thursday Night's VP Debate

Filed By Karen Ocamb | October 12, 2012 3:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: abortion rights, Joe Biden, Paul Ryan, religion vs law, religious right, vice presidential debates

I just filed my analysis of the Vice Presidential Debate for the upcoming issue of Frontiers magazine. Here's an excerpt that pertains to the important discussion of religion and women's reproductive rights.

Toward the end of the debate, moderator Martha Raddatz of ABC News asked the two Catholic candidates about their views on religion and abortion - critical because the next president will no doubt have to replace one or two Supreme Court Justices. Ryan-Biden-Debate.jpegIf Romney is elected - as Biden pointed out during the debate - he would most likely appoint someone in the ultra-conservative tradition of his antigay, anti-woman advisor Robert Bork and Antonin Scalia.

Religious conservatives have been relentless in their efforts to overturn Roe v Wade, which grants women reproductive rights and autonomy over their own bodies. It is not too far-fetched to consider that, if the Supreme Court can overturn "settled law" such as Roe v Wade, they could conceivably decide - if the such cases are brought before them - to overturn Lawrence v. Kansas, the law decriminalizing sodomy. Remember, Lawrence overturned the court's prior ruling in Bowers v Hardwick, so while overturning precedent is very rare, an ideologically-drive court with a religious right majority could prove history wrong.

Ryan's answer to the two-part religion/abortion question was telling, clearly obfuscating the separation between church and state.

"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. My faith informs me about how to take care of the vulnerable, of how to make sure that people have a chance in life," Ryan said. "Now, you want to ask basically why I'm pro-life? It's not simply because of my Catholic faith. That's a factor, of course. But it's also because of reason and science."

Ryan described seeing the ultrasound of his daughter at seven weeks. "A little baby was in the shape of a bean. And to this day, we have nicknamed our firstborn child Liza, "Bean." Now I believe that life begins at conception," Ryan said. "Now I understand this is a difficult issue, and I respect people who don't agree with me on this, but the policy of a Romney administration will be to oppose abortions with the exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother."

That's a change in position for Ryan, who in 2007 basically advocated that a fertilized egg should be given the due process and equal protection rights of the 14th Amendment. He also raised the issue of contraception, claiming that ObamaCare infringes on "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." The lawsuits to which Ryan refers are not only about religious employers not having to pay for contraception but also not having to abide by state anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT people and people with HIV/AIDS.

"My religion defines who I am, and I've been a practicing Catholic my whole life," Biden said. "And has particularly informed my social doctrine. The Catholic social doctrine talks about taking care of those who -- who can't take care of themselves, people who need help. With regard to -- with regard to abortion, I accept my church's position on abortion as a -- what we call a (inaudible) doctrine. Life begins at conception in the church's judgment. I accept it in my personal life.

"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 -- the congressman," Biden said. "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 the Supreme Court, I'm not going to interfere with that. 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."

Biden called out Ryan's changed position. "My friend (Ryan) says that he -- well I guess he accepts Governor Romney's position now, because in the past he has argued that there was -- there's rape and forcible rape. He's argued that in the case of rape or incest, it was still -- it would be a crime to engage in having an abortion. I just fundamentally disagree with my friend."

"All I'm saying is, if you believe that life begins at conception, that, therefore, doesn't change the definition of life. That's a principle. The policy of a Romney administration is to oppose abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother," Ryan said.

Raddatz asked: "If the Romney-Ryan ticket is elected, should those who believe that abortion should remain legal be worried?"

Ryan responded: "We don't think that unelected judges should make this decision; that people through their elected representatives in reaching a consensus in society through the democratic process should make this determination."

That's an argument for states rights for which we have historical precedent in slavery and more recently, in how Republican-controlled state legislatures have almost eradicated a women's right to control her own reproductive rights. Will state governments legislate control over contraception next? And consider: civil marriage is considered a matter for the states to decide. With so many state legislatures already having a law or constitutional amendment prohibiting marriage equality for same sex couples, if Romney and Ryan are elected, would they keep their promise to the National Organization for Marriage and push through a federal Constitutional Amendment banning marriage equality?

Even if the old moderate Massachusetts Mitt Romney returns upon election - Paul Ryan would surely return to his deep religious right roots and remind Romney who got him elected in the first place.

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