Ryan/Biden Debate: Science, Religion and Women’s Health Questions Never Asked

By Christine |

Last night’s quick-fire sparring between Vice President Joe Biden and GOP candidate Rep. Paul Ryan made for an engaging debate — and a well-organized one, thanks to the moderator, ABC news reporter Martha Raddatz.

Still, there were many subject areas that went left un-touched — immigration, rights of workers and equal pay, environmental regulation, LGBT issues, for starters — and it took quite a while to get to one of the most important issues framing this campaign: women’s access to reproductive health care.

Imani Gandy, who tweets as Angry Black Lady, called it out with this tweet:

You have 23 minutes to start talking about uteri before I cut mine out and send it to Paul Ryan. Seriously. Don’t make me do it. #VPdebates

The question did eventually come, sort of:

Martha Raddatz: 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. And, please, this is such an emotional issue for so many people in this country. Please talk personally about this, if you could.

Asking two Catholic men to talk personally about abortion is, well, problematic. The issue begs for a serious discussion around facts and policy, not men’s feelings.

“I really wish she hadn’t framed abortion as a personal issue for a couple of Catholic guys,” Lucinda Marshall wrote today. “Not to mention that we really need to discuss reproductive rights as a whole, not just reduce it to the abortion question.”

Amy Davidson, however, noted the opening it provided: “Making religion the frame meant that the discussion could range well beyond the dilemma of abortion in women’s lives. (Ryan: ‘Look at what they’re doing through Obamacare with respect to assaulting the religious liberties of this country.’)”

Amanda Marcotte wrote that the candidates gave “polished, talking-point heavy answers,” but Ryan bringing up contraception, without prodding and in the context of religion, was notable:

The only remarkable thing about the exchange is that contraception is now such an important target for the anti-choicers that Ryan brought the subject up, even though Raddatz didn’t ask about it, pivoting quickly from abortion to talk about the Catholic Church’s issue with contraception: “Look at what they’re doing through Obamacare with respect to assaulting the religious liberties of this country. They’re infringing upon our first freedom, the freedom of religion, by infringing on Catholic charities, Catholic churches, Catholic hospitals.”

As with abortion, Ryan’s religion teaches that contraception is wrong, though, when pressed, he wasn’t as eager to suggest that what is taught in the pews should be enforced by the law. Instead, he spoke of “religious liberty,” by which he means giving the employer the right to deny an employee insurance benefits she has paid for because he thinks Jesus disapproves of sex for pleasure instead of procreation.

Ryan made the point that his Catholic faith isn’t all that guides his views on abortion. “That’s a factor, of course,” he said. “But it’s also because of reason and science.” Here’s Davidson again:

“Science,” in this case, meant looking at an ultrasound image of his first child with his wife—an experience that is widely shared and rightly regarded with wonder. (The tiny image he saw was the source of his daughter’s nickname, Bean, he said.) And then, “the policy of a Romney administration will be to oppose abortions with the exceptions for rape, incest, and life of the mother”—carefully construed, as even this very restrictive list is more than Ryan, left to his own devices, would allow. Ryan doesn’t think that rape victims should have access to abortion.

We don’t look to personal views on religion to frame debates about when to involve ground troops in global conflicts or how to shape tax policy, but we allow our politicians to fall back on their religion when it comes to women’s health. And that’s a problem.

Here’s a sampling of questions I wish Raddatz would have asked, using the same level of specific questioning she brought to other topics: You mentioned science and reason — why are faulty scientific claims being used to justify opposition to contraception, which has been shown to decrease the rate of unintended pregnancies and abortion? How can someone be “pro-life” and support a bill that shows no regard for the life of the mother? What, exactly, is the definition of “forcible rape”?

If we really want to go to religion: Since Italy, which is overwhelmingly Catholic, approved the sale of the emergency contraception Ella (which an Ella representative says wouldn’t have happened if it were considered to induce abortion), why is there still so much debate around the morning-after pill?

And in response to Ryan’s assertion during the debate that the Democratic party supports abortion “without restriction and with taxpayer funding”: Isn’t that, in fact, malarkey?

Raddatz did return to the question of abortion with a different angle: “If the Romney-Ryan ticket is elected, should those who believe that abortion should remain legal be worried?” to which 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 led to a brief discussion of Supreme Court nominees, with Biden stating: “The next president will get one or two Supreme Court nominees. That’s how close Roe v. Wade is. Just ask yourself, with Robert Bork being the chief adviser on the court for — for Mr. Romney, who do you think he’s likely to appoint?”

And shortly thereafter, it was over, leaving many viewers as frustrated as they were before the first question about uteri was asked.

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3 Comments

  1. Rachel says:

    You are right on. In the post-truth era that we live in, these debates are really one of the last bastions where we can cut through all the distortions about women’s health that the GOP has been peddling. Unlike in other arenas, candidates don’t want to be perceived a ducking the question in the debate, especially this last format. All she had to do was ask a real question (your suggestions are awesome) and demand a real answer.

  2. andrew says:

    V.P.Biden missed an opportunity to point out that the Romney/Ryan ticket has demonstrated its insensitivity to the reproductive rights of women by failing to support family planning programs that offer advice and guidance on the use of contraceptives. Effective birth control measures have been proven to reduce unwanted pregnancies and abortions. Romney/Ryan, on the other hand, only advocate policies that demonize women who seek abortions and the doctors who perform them.