Question on Catholicism, abortion, makes for dramatic moments in vice presidential debate
October 12th, 2012
12:01 AM ET

Question on Catholicism, abortion, makes for dramatic moments in vice presidential debate

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

Washington (CNN) - It was the first-ever debate between two Roman Catholics vying for a White House perch, and in Thursday’s face-off between Vice President Joe Biden and vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, the question was put plainly: How does your faith shape your position on abortion?

It’s one of the most divisive questions in American politics, and the query from debate moderator Martha Raddatz, asked near the end of the sole vice presidential debate, set the table for some of the night’s most personal and poignant moments.

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

“My religion defines who I am,” said Biden. “I’ve been a practicing Catholic my whole life.”

But the two men took very different tacks on applying their faith to the abortion issue. Ryan said his religion – combined with “reason and science” – led him to oppose legalized abortion, and that “the policy of a Romney administration is to oppose abortion with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.”

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Ryan recalled when he and his wife, Janna, saw the ultrasound of their firstborn child, Liza. “We saw that heartbeat – a little baby was in the shape of a bean,” he said, noting that they still called their daughter “Bean” and saying he believes that “life begins at conception.”

“With respect to abortion, the Democratic Party used to say they wanted it to be safe, legal and rare,” Ryan continued. “Now they support it without restriction and with taxpayer funding … that to me is pretty extreme.”

Biden said he accepted his church’s anti-abortion position – “life begins at conception in the church’s judgment” – but that he refused to impose that view on “equally devout Christians and Muslims and Jews.”

“The next president will get one or two Supreme Court nominees,” Biden said. “That’s how close Roe v. Wade is. … Do you think (Romney is) likely to appoint someone like Scalia or someone else on the court far right that would outlaw abortion? I suspect that would happen.”

Both men also used the question on abortion and Roman Catholicism to pivot to other issues, with Ryan saying the Obama White House is “infringing on Catholic charities, Catholic churches, Catholic hospitals” presumably because of a new rule requiring insurers to provide free contraception coverage for virtually all American employees.

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Before answering the abortion question, Biden said his Catholicism has “informed my social doctrine … about taking care of those who can’t take care of themselves, people who need help.”

The Obama campaign and liberal Catholic groups used the debate to organize Catholic watch parties and to argue that Ryan’s proposed budget in the House of Representative ran counter to Catholic values.

About one in four American voters is Catholic, though there is such a broad range in Catholic political concerns and voting habits that many political experts reject the notion of a cohesive Catholic bloc.

Catholics have voted with the winning presidential candidate in every election since the early 1990s.

Obama camp, liberal groups use VP debate to organize Catholic voters

In 2008, Obama beat John McCain among Catholics by 54% to 45%. In 2004, John Kerry – the first Catholic nominee for president since John F. Kennedy – lost the Catholic vote to George W. Bush, provoking Democrats to take Catholic outreach more seriously.

Both major parties had America’s highest-profile Catholic cleric, New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, give the closing prayer at their recent political conventions.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: 2012 Election • Abortion • Catholic Church • Joe Biden • Paul Ryan • Politics

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  6. Ashley

    Why would we ever leave Roe v. Wade alone, when Norma Leah McCorvey is NOW PRO-LIFE!

    November 4, 2012 at 4:05 pm |
  7. Gerald

    I think shooting people in the head with a 44 mag is immoral but I wouldn't want to impose my belief on anyone else.

    October 22, 2012 at 3:55 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Gerald, you must have a skull the size of thimble. Morality isn't the issue. Laws and rights are. The issue isn't when life begins but when rights are guaranteed and to whom. Killing a born person is an infringement on that person's rights. It's not illegal because it's immoral–it's illegal because it is depriving someone else of the rights guaranteed to them under law.

      Get it through that pinhead of yours.

      October 22, 2012 at 9:14 pm |
  8. lathebiosas

    I though Joe's response was spot on. He's a catholic and accepts their position on abortion but does not feel it is his responsibility to enforce that position on anyone else. Thank you Joe.

    October 22, 2012 at 8:42 am |
    • Gerald

      Neither do I think I should impose my view on shooting someone in the head with a 44 mag. Joe says the baby is a person. .... Hmmmmm...... But it is okay for others to kill it and enforce their position on the baby.

      October 22, 2012 at 3:57 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      No, Joe doesn't say that, you idiot. Why are you so stupid?

      October 22, 2012 at 9:12 pm |
  9. rmincalifornia

    Being against abortion but pro war is such a contradiction of values coming out of the republican party. It's almost as if they are saying, "wait, don't kill that baby in the womb, instead let it be born so that when it comes of age we can send him/her to war for us".

    October 21, 2012 at 11:43 pm |
    • Gerald

      Evidently you don't have a clue about wars and just war theory. Your just making it up yourself. Nobody is "for war" as you claim but it is completely logical to be for self defense and national defense which protects liberty and freedom and life. Your post is nonsense.

      October 22, 2012 at 3:58 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Gerald, nobody is "for abortion" either, but nimrods like you blather such sh!t every day.

      October 22, 2012 at 10:34 pm |
  10. Rachellyn

    Joe is a Liar saying that the governement is not forcing Catholic Employers to provide something that is against their beliefs....Paul ryan was so right in trying to get this lie exposed, though he was cut off.

    October 21, 2012 at 9:57 pm |
    • Luigi


      You know that the issue is greater than what you state. That the Roman Catholic Church can't control what people choose to do. God give you and me, all of us, free will. Some use it for bad things. There will always be bad things that happen on earth. That's why we are here. Can the Catholic Church determine how I use my paycheck? Can they say, that because my wife purchases oral contraceptives, they will not pay me because we choose to spend our money on such things?

      Then why should they be able to say, or any employer for that matter, which I use my health care benefits I can use?

      You are aware that there are exceptions to the rule in place at this time, and that the Obama administration is working to make a deal with the Church.

      October 22, 2012 at 6:21 am |
  11. Rachellyn

    Joe is a Liar saying that the governement is not forcing Catholic Employers to provide something that is against their beliefs....

    October 21, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      So what? If they employ people they are bound to follow the same laws as all other employers. They can either suck it up or start paying taxes.

      October 21, 2012 at 10:00 pm |
  12. Adam

    It doesn't matter if your religious views are against abortion. It is very clear that "church and state" MUST not be mixed together.

    October 21, 2012 at 6:21 pm |
  13. Lisa

    If Ryan's quote is accurate, then he might as well say he doesn't believe in separation of church & state.
    As an elected official he will seek to make us all obey Catholic doctrine.

    October 21, 2012 at 6:14 pm |
    • Rachellyn

      I don't think Paul Ryan is asking anyone to follow the catholic doctrine...Abortions will still be legal the day after the election. And also why do some women feel it is a right for free birth control....go to Wal*mart and spend the $9.99 yourselves, I do.

      October 21, 2012 at 9:54 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Goodie for you. So do many other women. Unfortunately, those who don't or can't are the ones who end up with an unwanted pregnancy. Do you really want those women to be mothers? To have children they don't want? Why should they? Because you think they "should have done" something different? Do you really think that's going to make the slightest difference? Your opinion of them and what their lives are like is not even based on reality. I doubt you have a clue about them and you likely care even less.

      October 21, 2012 at 9:59 pm |
    • Reason

      Pro-Life, is not just a religious movement or doctrine. There are scientists, atheists, agnostics, and other secularists that are pro-choice.

      October 22, 2012 at 12:21 am |
    • Reason

      Sorry about the last post but there are atheists, agnostics, and other secularists that are *pro-life*.

      October 22, 2012 at 12:22 am |
  14. james ferrell

    joe biden liar moter then i can sand him & obama need to be live in libya with no guns just to take to the one who kill are people.

    October 21, 2012 at 5:08 pm |
  15. ASK god...

    Good response Joe.

    October 21, 2012 at 4:40 pm |
  16. Rage Against the Latrine

    Tom Tom the Piper's Son is spot on. A bit verbose and belittling to those that oppose him, but spot on nonetheless. We have too many babies that end up in less than ideal conditions in this country. As a Catholic, put in a hypothetical situation I wouldn't necessarily be in favor of abortion as the first option, but ultimately the decision would be my wife's- not mine. Also, if my tax dollars go toward providing a safe, intelligent option for preventing more gang-bangers and miscreants from populating the US (and ultimately using my tax dollars anyway), then so be it. Biden is generally a buffoon, but he was also spot on in the debate regarding not imposing his belief system on others. Leave R v W alone- our Supreme Court decided this 40 years ago. Can't we move on?

    October 21, 2012 at 3:21 pm |
    • Rachellyn

      Actually in the case of roe V Wade you would understand that the case really has a different ending that never gets spoken about: such as the woman's regret she experienced afterwards.......Why should my tax dollars be used for something that in my opinion I believe to be immoral...

      October 21, 2012 at 9:50 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Since they aren't the point is moot, dear. And if you look into the studies recently done, they show that women who have an abortion are no more likely to suffer any mental distress than women who don't.

      Stop believing the fundie press. Learn to think for yourself.

      October 21, 2012 at 9:56 pm |
    • billdeacons

      Rage, I cannot believe you spout such a racist and eugenics driven comment advocating abortion as a viable method of keeping "gang bangers and miscreants" from populating the nation and then claim to be Catholic. Where exactly does your Catholicism come from?

      October 21, 2012 at 11:49 pm |
    • billdeacons

      IS this recent enough for you Tom? Stop justifying the murder of your child.

      Published on October 25, 2010 by Susanne Babbel, Ph.D., M.F.T. in Somatic Psychology

      PASS can affect any woman who experiences trauma from abortion.
      No matter your philosophical, religious, or political views on abortion, the fact of the matter is, the actual experience can affect women not only on a personal level but can potentially have psychological repercussions.

      October 21, 2012 at 11:52 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Notice that little word "can", Billy Boob? Of course it can. The study that was done more recently than yours found that it is no more likely to cause depression or any other mental illness than is childbirth. Women who have an abortion were found to have no more incidence of mental illness than those who didn't.

      And as already been stated, regardless of the findings of ANY study, women still have the right to choose. You can find all the bogus statistics you want, but that fact stands: women aren't beholden to you, dearie. They can choose to continue a pregnancy or end it all by themselves.

      October 22, 2012 at 11:08 am |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Read on, Billy Boob: here's another article from the same publication:

      Funny that you failed to read Suzy Q's disclaimer that states that PASS isn't a term recognized by the APA.

      You're really desperate to tell women what to do with their bodies, aren't you? Why?

      October 22, 2012 at 11:15 am |
    • Bill Deacon

      Tom, you've said some hateful things to me and I have returned same from time to time. But in all kindness what I am trying to point out to you is that this issue isn't about women's bodies. It is about the life of the unborn. This is where we split and where we will likely always split. You have conceded that life exists within the womb and Joe Biden says he believes it starts at conception. I acknowledge that women have the right granted by the government to end that life and you have ferociously defended that. I merely make the point that have the right and doing what is right are two different things. It smacks of self righteousness and self centeredness when women claim special citizenship to make the choice indicates to me the lack of moral certainty that so many women admit to uncertainty and psychological problems after the fact. My point is I agree with you. I don't care what women do with their bodies. I care what they do with the children. I accept that, in this country, at this time, women have the power to commit this heinous act. I merely wish they made better choices but I fear that is beyond the grasp of most.

      October 24, 2012 at 12:28 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      What a condescending POS you are, Bill. You pass judgment on women as "self-centered and self-righteous," of "committing heinous acts," and, most obnoxious of all, you conclude that morality and a conscience are "beyond the grasp of most" women. You can stuff it up your fundament, you self-righteous azz. You have no business judging the decisions of a woman you don't know and will never know as if you were some almighty sage. You have no friggin' clue how ignorant you are. You have not a single idea what many women go through in making a decision about an unplanned pregnancy. Would you want someone who has never met your wife, has no idea of her life and its difficulties, and no personal stake in her decisions, telling her what treatment she should get or not get for her emotional problems? How arrogant are you? What a jerk you must be in real life.

      October 24, 2012 at 8:12 pm |
    • I'm not a GOPer, nor do I play one on TV

      Todd Akin now has a 'running mate' – Akin for Senate in Missouri and Mourdock for Senate in Indiana.

      (CNN) – U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock said Wednesday that he is sorry if he offended anyone by saying that pregnancies from rape are "something that God intended to happen"


      October 24, 2012 at 8:18 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      Billy the Boob "doesn't care what women do with their bodies" so long as they incubate a fetus. Otherwise, he couldn't care less what happens to women at all. You can bet that any baby girl that's born won't get the time of day from Bill-she's only good for one thing.

      October 24, 2012 at 9:04 pm |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.