Vice President Joe Biden and Republican Rep. Paul Ryan squared off on a variety of domestic and foreign policy issues during last week’s debate, from clashes over the economy and taxes to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it was an exchange over a war of a different sort — the GOP’s “War on Women” — that perhaps may have swayed undecided voters the most.
Near the end of the debate, moderator Martha Raddatz broached the topic of abortion, framed in the context of each man’s Catholic faith and personal beliefs.
Ryan was first to respond, saying, “I don’t see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith.”
He then channeled running mate Mitt Romney and did a little acrobatic flip-flopping, saying “the policy of a Romney administration will be to oppose abortions with the exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother” rather than stating his own, far more draconian, beliefs regarding abortion, before veering into a rant against Obamacare — couched, of course, in the guise of an “assault” on Americans’ religious freedom.
“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. ... And with respect to abortion, the Democratic Party used to say they wanted it to be safe, legal and rare. Now they support it without restriction and with taxpayer funding.”
Putting aside the fact that Ryan’s opening salvo in the abortion discussion seems to essentially be an admission that he can’t separate his personal religious beliefs from his obligations as an elected public official — a clear violation of the right to separation of church and state that is guaranteed under the First Amendment, the very same amendment Ryan cites — Ryan also had his so-called facts wrong. Again.
So let’s clear a few things up for the fact-challenged. First, a ban on federal funding of abortion has been on the books since Congress passed the Hyde Amendment in 1976. The only exceptions are for victims of rape or incest, or to save the life of a mother. That ban was reaffirmed by an executive order signed by President Barack Obama in 2010, by the way.
And, as Biden himself pointed out in his response, “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.”
The vice president also spoke of his personal viewpoint on conception, formed through church teachings, while offering support for other Americans’ right to choose for themselves.
Page 2 of 2 - “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 congressman. 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.”
It seems pretty clear who really respects Americans’ right to religious freedom, and who is merely giving it lip service, doesn’t it?
It isn’t just about religious freedom, either. The legality of abortion itself could be on the line. A Romney/Ryan ticket is widely believed to pose a threat to the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade ruling — something Ryan himself obliquely referred to during the debate, saying “We don’t think that unelected judges should make this decision.”
With four justices in their 70s, as Biden noted, “the next president will get one or two Supreme Court nominees. That’s how close Roe v. Wade is.”
Whomever wins the White House will hold the fate of a host of other women’s issues in his hands, too. In the past two years alone, there have been nearly 2,000 anti-choice provisions introduced in legislation. Among other things, Republican lawmakers have attempted to redefine rape, supported a bill that would let hospitals watch a woman die rather than perform a needed abortion and tried to take away all federal funding for Planned Parenthood. South Dakota GOP members even attempted to make it legal to murder doctors who provide abortion care. Even the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act has been stalled in Congress — all because protection was expanded to include gays and American Indians.
Voters are being faced with an important choice this election cycle, and the outcome could very well change the course of history. So before you cast your ballot, ask yourself this question: Do you want to go back to the ’50s-era social policies of the past, or do you want a future where all Americans — regardless of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation — will truly be treated equally?
Amy Gehrt may be reached at email@example.com. The views expressed in this column are not necessarily those of the newspaper.