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

soundoff (1,543 Responses)
  1. gladiatorgrl


    Our Founding Fathers also recognized that Judeo-Christian morality was essential to the Republic and without it we would have mob rule.
    WHO was ruling the mob that used to burn witches at the stake in this country?..... would that be those "founding Christians"?

    October 12, 2012 at 2:39 pm |
  2. Nietodarwin

    This is why Obama's JOBS BILL did not get passed, the GOP thinks debating a JOBS BILL means screaming and whining again and again "Abortion, abortion abortion" What needs ABORTING is these religious sickos from our political system

    October 12, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
    • Paula

      How many more cancer patients must suffer from Obama's torture – STOP terrorism against Medical Marijuana Patients.

      October 12, 2012 at 4:14 pm |
  3. Michael

    Separation of church and state...not going to happen unfortunately.

    October 12, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
    • Lucy

      I think I saw a big herpes blister on Stephanie Cutter's lip – wonder where she got it?

      October 12, 2012 at 2:34 pm |
    • REASON AND SCIENCE, Human be aware of hindu filthy dog's of hindu Atheism, self center ism , DENIAL OF TRUTH ABSOLUTE GOD.

      State means nothing else but environmental, there is not other way to cleanse environmental but to to eliminate pollution of hinduism, denial of truth absolute. No hindu's, parasites, no sickness, healthy nation.

      October 12, 2012 at 2:37 pm |
  4. Nietodarwin

    Catholicism has been impeding science,thought, human dignity for centuries. (It only took the church 500 years to admit they were wrong about Galileo. Ryan and his budget are the reasons that Nuns on the Bus came into existence. Who cares about his extreme views on abortion, he has no problem letting kids go hungry in our schools once they are born.
    The GOP is the most foul excrement, I'm hoping for a plane crash that will take them not just out of the election, but off the planet. Come on Mother Nature

    October 12, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • REASON AND SCIENCE, Human be aware of hindu filthy dog's of hindu Atheism, self center ism , DENIAL OF TRUTH ABSOLUTE GOD.

      they are hindu's, ignorant and follower of hinduism, denial of truth absolute, expect nothing better from a hindu, crook of hinduism, religion.

      October 12, 2012 at 2:30 pm |
    • Lucy

      Does Stephanie Cutter have a big herpes blister on her lip?

      October 12, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
    • Bill Deacon

      Nieto, I presume you know but for those who may not, Galileo was, of course, wrong. He tried to show that the sun was the center of the universe as opposed to contemporary thought which stated that the earth was the center of the universe. I hope you do not believe the sun is the center of the universe.

      What the Church has amended is the fact and the degree to which Galileo was punished by the papacy for the error of trying to make heliocentrism a theological doctrine when he should have rightly kept his errant theory in the scientific realm.

      October 12, 2012 at 4:18 pm |
  5. TiredOfPaying

    There is a Power motive behind things like the Catholic Church staying No to abortion. Prior to our modern society Power came from owning land and from large populations. Even today we see that having more followers gets you Power. All religions set laws intended to increase their Power. For Islam it is Jihad and 'convert or die', while Catholics cling to large families.

    Republicans use the Church's opposition to abortion to gain greater control over people's lives.

    That's it. Morality has nothing to do with the positions taken by these groups. Its simply a way to create more people who they have Power over.

    Consider this: If Republicans really cared about children, why do they cut education and fail to support those born into poverty? Because they don't need millions of Nobel Prize winners... they need millions of uneducated, poor masses to believe their 'stuff' and work their factories. If Islam truly wanted converts why does the Koran state that conqured people can keep their religion if they just pay 2x the taxes? They kill apostates because its easier than trying to convert someone who already rejected their faith.

    October 12, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  6. Wade

    illegal immigration, euthanasia, aids, abortion, drug abuse,,,,,,don't liberals just kill ya!

    October 12, 2012 at 2:25 pm |
    • pat

      Did you contract AIDS from a liberal?

      October 12, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • sam

      Wade, show us on the doll where the mean liberals touched you. Was it a no-no place?

      October 12, 2012 at 2:28 pm |
  7. The Film Professor

    This provided a wonderful contrast. Ryan would force his personal religious views on ALL Americans by codifying those beliefs into laws. Biden would not. For anyone who believes is a separation between church and state, the choice in this election is obvious.

    October 12, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • gordyb

      Ryans world view is my religion should dictate your moral views too.

      October 12, 2012 at 2:45 pm |
  8. Wade

    When Biden says he cares "about taking care of those who can’t take care of themselves," does he mean the living, breathing, eating child inside a mother's womb?

    October 12, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • sam

      Once they're living, eating and breathing, I imagine so. There's a bit of time to percolate before they start doing those things, though.

      October 12, 2012 at 2:27 pm |
  9. Nietodarwin

    I can't believe ANY sane woman would vote for this GOP. That's just it, any woman who does vote for the GOP is obviously ;made INSANE (by religion.)

    October 12, 2012 at 2:20 pm |
    • Bob

      Yep. Religion will do that.

      October 12, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
  10. Jackie

    Biden is violating the most basic tenants of his religion, at least according to Church leaders.

    October 12, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • Jeff Cox

      Actually, he's not.

      October 12, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • TheSchmaltz

      He's not getting an abortion. He's not performing an abortion. He's just not forcing his beliefs on others.

      October 12, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  11. gladiatorgrl


    Our Founding Fathers also recognized that Judeo-Christian morality was essential to the Republic and without it we would have mob rule.
    ???? morals ONLY come from Christians......

    Do you know that apes "share" with each other? and give what they borrow back? I would think "sharing" is a moral thing to do – don't see many of them in church on Sunday. Matter of fact I'm sure there's alot of people out theere would like the things they loaned to some Christian back 🙂 .... just sayin'

    October 12, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
  12. gladiatorgrl

    So when the Supreme Court rules .. ex.. Citizens United ruling in favor of wealthy corporations we need to just live with it don't ? the SCOTUS (remember what happened when Obama did?? ) BUT when the SCOTUS ruled on abortion (over 30 years ago) it's wrong...... must be more rationale from BS Mountain.

    October 12, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • Adman

      So if we are not allowed to re-visit SCOTUS decisions I guess Dred Scott is still the law of the land. Of course there really can not be any thing considered "settled law".

      October 12, 2012 at 2:33 pm |
  13. jacko

    Conservative viewpoint:
    4 or 5 cells bundled together = human, respect life etc.
    Cells that grow into a person born into poverty = human trash, go starve etc.

    What a bunch of nuts.

    October 12, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • Jay

      There's a big difference between respecting someone's life and forcing other people to take care of them through taxation. Every pro-lifer encourages the mother to give the child up for adoption or to some other organization that can care for the child. The religious contribute more to charity than any other group in this country. A lot of us are simply against forced charity mandated by government, and we do more voluntary charity than any other group.

      October 12, 2012 at 2:22 pm |
    • sam

      "The religious contribute more to charity than any other group in this country..."

      No – they only feel that they do, and they make a big deal out of it while doing it. There's just as many non-religious who do things quietly, unseen, and not expecting a reward in the afterlife for their work. Nice try, though.

      October 12, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
    • Patrick

      Yes, lets force these mothers to have babies and then give them up for adoption because that always works out and everyone lives happily ever after.

      Obviously you have never worked in child welfare, and seen the 1000's of kids who do not have homes or supports, and are living on tax payer money as well. A lot of people only want to adopt very specific babies, and that leaves a lot of the others out to dry. Life aint a fairytale out there for these little unborns

      October 12, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
  14. jim

    I'm pro-abortion. No, not pro-choice but pro-abortion. I want there to be as many abortions as possible. I'm going to get my girl pregnant and make her have an abortion just for fun. Maybe if there are enough abortions, then people will see how cool it is.

    October 12, 2012 at 2:09 pm |
    • sam

      It's the totally cool new thing to do; I think there's a two for one coupon running in Sunday's paper!

      October 12, 2012 at 2:12 pm |
    • pat

      Jim – I love you – mail me your sperm and I will abort you another child.

      October 12, 2012 at 2:19 pm |
    • friday today

      there's a group-on for that at your local clinic

      October 12, 2012 at 3:39 pm |
  15. Neo

    I find it fascinating to see people argue about pro-life and pro-choice. To me there are two arguments.

    1) when does life begin? After many years talking to people it ranges from conception to when they cut the umbilical cord.

    2) Choice? Who's choice is it to terminate life and when?

    October 12, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • REASON AND SCIENCE, Human be aware of hindu filthy dog's of hindu Atheism, self center ism , DENIAL OF TRUTH ABSOLUTE GOD.

      Life begins in man's body according to invisible spirit, program by quantum physics, Sperm is alive and seed to sprout in to human body. To say, life begin's with conception is hinduism, criminality by hindu atheist, criminal self centered, secular's to justify murder of living being to satisfy their hindu soul, filthy desire. No different than hindu criminal ROMANS. hindu, beast in form of human.

      October 12, 2012 at 2:24 pm |
  16. REASON AND SCIENCE, Human be aware of hindu filthy dog's of hindu Atheism, self center ism , DENIAL OF TRUTH ABSOLUTE GOD.

    More than 2000 years old argument and belief of hindu Pharisee's, criminal self centered, hindu Jew's, criminal secular's, deniers of truth absolute, base of hinduism, corruption of truth absolute called religion's, such as Judaism, hindu Mithra ism, savior ism, labeled as Christianity, Suni ism, Shea ism. etc. As it is stated in book of Mithra ism, Christianity, bible addressed to hindu Pharisees, criminal secular's, YOU DECORATE TOMB'S OF YOU CLAIMED ANCESTORS AND DENY TRUTH ABSOLUTE, TRUTH IS THE ROCK, WHO EVER WILL FALL ON IT, WILL DIE AND WHOM EVER IT WILL FALL ON, WILL DIE. Cause of conflict among humanity. hindu atheism, criminal self center ism, denial of truth absolute GOD, to satisfy hindu soul, filthy desire. way of hindu's, criminals to justify their hinduism, criminality against humanity and truth absolute GOD. To learn fundamentals of conflict, please visit limitisthetruth.com

    October 12, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • snowboarder

      hindu – there is definitely something wrong with your thinking.

      October 12, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • Jeff Cox

      If this post isn't a perfect example of why we need universal healthcare ... including coverage for psychiatric medications ... then I don't know what would be!

      October 12, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • Michael

      You need to take yourself to a psychiatric hospital and check yourself in before we start reading about you on the front page and hearing about you on tv. You have some obvious problems and if they get out of hand, you're going to be embarrassing your family and friends.

      October 12, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • REASON AND SCIENCE, Human be aware of hindu filthy dog's of hindu Atheism, self center ism , DENIAL OF TRUTH ABSOLUTE GOD.

      No, hindu's deniers of truth absolute need treatment for their hinduism, mental dyslexia to be able to recognize truth absolute of life, GOD.

      October 12, 2012 at 2:26 pm |
  17. gladiatorgrl

    “I don't see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith,” said Ryan.
    It's called NO STATE SPONSORED RELIGION!!! DON'T run for PUBLIC office if you can't. GEEZ "What a maroon".... Bugs Bunny

    October 12, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • snowboarder

      no one really wants them to separate their public life from their faith. what we all want is for them to not attempt to foist their beliefs on the remainder of the populace.

      October 12, 2012 at 2:13 pm |
    • blood_wraith

      having a state sponsored religion and letting your religion affect your moral judgment are two DRASTICALLY different things

      October 12, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
  18. Bob

    "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.”"

    That life begins at conception is an uncontested scientific FACT. It's not some metaphysical opinion or religious doctrine. The only question is what value we give that life and whether to deem it worthy of protection of the law. Biden is such a confused old man.

    October 12, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • csiko

      @Bob You have a funny definition of "fact."

      Rather than try to argue when something is considered a "person" or has "life" with religious extremists because it's obviously quite foolhardy, why don't we instead ask your ilk when you think the soul enters the body?

      If you say that the soul lives in every single little sperm or egg cell, we should start holding people accountable for genocide by your definition. How many souls have you killed just today, even?

      October 12, 2012 at 2:04 pm |
    • Bob

      Csiko, life begins at conception and there is no scientific debate about that. It's simply a scientific fact. Make if it what you will, but you can't change that fact. Does it mean that it should be protected by law? Maybe, maybe not, but all these choicers talking about this question like it's a matter of opinion is disiengenuous in the extreme. Saying that life begins at conception is stating a fact. Stating that such life should or should not be protected by law is stating a metaphysical opinion. So it's funny that choicers think the pro-lifers are engaging in religious speculation when they make the claim, when it is really they themselves who are doing that when they say that it shouldn't be protected,

      October 12, 2012 at 2:11 pm |
    • Oh Ye Of Little Faith

      Bob you are absolutely correct. Unfortunately those who are for ending the life of a pre-born child are conveniently closed-minded about it, I suspect, in order to feel better about themselves or their immoral choices in killing that child. As Illinois State Senator – Obama voted FOUR times against even giving aid to those children who SURVIVED failed abortion attempts. Someday we will all answer for our use right-judgement – or lack thereof.

      October 12, 2012 at 2:14 pm |
    • Concerned Citizen

      Actually Bobby

      It's highly contested. How do you define life? Being able to live on your own outside of the womb? Brain function? When exactly does one stop being a sperm and an egg and become a person or do you think that every sperm and egg is a person too?

      The next question I have is, did you even read the statement you copied? Biden agrees with you and your dumb church, what he (rightly) disagrees with is when you try to impose your same beliefs on other people who don't share those and agree with you.

      October 12, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • sam

      Sure Bob – it's a living collection of cells at conception. By that definition, the sperm and egg are also life. None of the three are sentient. What are you so ben tout of shape about? You're a confused old man too, by the sound of you.

      October 12, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • Jeff Cox

      So Bob ...

      Are you interested in being governed by Sharia Law? Me neither. For the same reason, I'm not interested in being governed under the Catholic catechism (except for my own llife, since I am a Catholic).

      You can't say, I'm opposed to Sharia law" while in the same breath saying, "I'm okay with being governed by another religion's law." What, it's only okay if it's according to YOUR religious beliefs?

      How people fail to grasp this is simply beyond me!

      October 12, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • jumphigh

      If life doesn't begin at conception, they why have an abortion? What are you killing? Something that's NOT alive? If it's alive, then it has LIFE.

      October 12, 2012 at 2:18 pm |
    • sam

      @jumphigh – again, what's the point? By your definition, then, sperm has life. It sounds like you're trying to work your way from saying 'life' to 'ensouled'.

      October 12, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
    • Bob

      The other Bob is a religious wingnut.

      October 12, 2012 at 2:23 pm |
  19. Cherries

    I don't think its fair that the government funds abortions, however if they do not, they are possibly and very likely to fork out assistance dollars for that child. They are caught in the middle.

    October 12, 2012 at 1:46 pm |
    • JIm M

      The gov't only funds abortions if the life of the mother is at stake. That's been in place since te 1970's.

      October 12, 2012 at 1:51 pm |
    • Paul

      You speak of children as if they are roaches that need to be exterminated because they feed off of society. I hope you remember that it is the children that will choose your nursing home one day. If you continue to raise the few you don't kill off with these values, don't be surprised when they come in the room with a Dr. and a needle one day and say that you are now a drain on society that they keep having to fork over assistance dollars for, and ask you not to blame them because they are just "caught in the middle."

      October 12, 2012 at 1:53 pm |
    • Cherries

      Wow, Paul you are really passionate about the subject! I am not in favor or 'extermination' in any way, but there are women out there who feel they cannot care for a child, and feel the need to abort. There are also those who know that they can lean in assistance programs to help financially care for their childr(ren). I don't think the government should always pay for everything, but since they have for so long, they can't just stop.

      October 12, 2012 at 2:05 pm |
    • sam

      Paul...this is just more rhetoric. Feel free to get out there and adopt an unwanted baby, or grow a uterus. Otherwise you're just more histrionics to ignore.

      October 12, 2012 at 2:21 pm |
  20. angelo

    Separation of Church and State was one advocated by our Founding Fathers. Hearing the Republicans forcing their religious belief upon us makes me wonder how little knowledge of history is forgotten by so many in this country. We are in the Middle East fighting those who by their religious belief have hatred towards the US in the name of Allah. The so called religious right in this Country want to force their issues on abortion that life begins at conception, even though, conception cannot live outside of the womb; yet, on the other hand have no moral restraints from bombing a village full of living individuals when there may be only a few so called terrorists. The Republicans have successfully demonized the Muslins, even though in this country many Muslins are family and pro-America; along with gays, single parents, foreigners, 47%ers, and who’s ever next?. Religion is a choice and not something that should be forced upon us by the so-called religious right and any government official. Keep religion out of politics like our Founding Fathers wanted and fought for. I am a Catholic and I do not want someone in politics forcing their religious views on me.

    October 12, 2012 at 1:44 pm |
    • Redhead

      Nicely said.

      October 12, 2012 at 1:56 pm |
    • notraitors

      Our Founding Fathers also recognized that Judeo-Christian morality was essential to the Republic and without it we would have mob rule.

      It never ceases to amaze me how the left has no problem with ending a life before it has begun through abortion yet is opposed to ending a life through capital punishment for a heinous crime.

      And as far as "demonization" goes, the left is expert at demonizing others (think Biden calling those who oppose Obama's agenda "babarians")

      October 12, 2012 at 1:59 pm |
    • to angelo

      angelo, please let us know then what your basis for the laws of this country would be. If legally protecting life is something that's only in the realm of the religious and needs to be fought against, what legal protections would you keep on the books and why?

      October 12, 2012 at 2:00 pm |
    • Eileen

      "Separation of Church and State" was designed to protect the churches from the state, not the state from the churches. It allowed people from all different religions to be able to LIVE their faiths without direct interference from the government, as it was in England with the state being directly in charge of their church. That is not what we are talking about here. The state is imposing its will upon religion – it is reducing our 1st amendment freedom of religion simply to "freedom of worship." If that becomes the case, then our country will be no more "free" than in other countries that simply tolerate religion but do not allow people to express it in any way outside of the walls of their churches. This is not just an issue for Catholics – it is true for Jews, Protestants, Muslims, etc. This is a serious issue, because if you start limiting our consitutional freedoms by rewording them and their interpretation, pretty soon anything goes.

      October 12, 2012 at 2:16 pm |
    • sam

      Eileen, it's so that the two things are protected from each other. Stop the hysterical rhetoric.

      October 12, 2012 at 2:17 pm |
    • pat

      Eileen – I always thought the 1st ammendment meant that if you leave religion alone, don't try to get rid of it, but don't let it have any official position whatsoever, then maybe, given enough time, it will go away by itself.

      October 12, 2012 at 2:32 pm |
    • Tom

      Exactly! This is why they won't teach creationism in public schools because tof the Seperation of Church and State. Besides this, we have to be politically correct when we say stuff. Aren't I guaranteed Freedom of Speech? Not anymore.

      October 12, 2012 at 2:42 pm |
    • ME II

      "'Separation of Church and State' was designed to protect the churches from the state, not the state from the churches. "
      I disagree with your view of the intent of the First Amendment, however, even if you are correct, how do you have one without the other?
      In other words, if you don't limit the churches influence on government, wouldn't that allow one church, or religious organization, to control other religions via the government?
      For example, if someone got Hasidic law (or Sharia law, or Vedic law) enforceable by the government wouldn't that infringe on every one else's religion?

      October 12, 2012 at 2:47 pm |
    • Christianity and Islam is a mental disease- FACT

      Eileen you have a typical religo warped view. It works both ways tard.

      October 12, 2012 at 2:57 pm |
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