Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Religion, abortion and vice presidential politics

Flickr/Gage Skidmore

On Oct. 11, the vice presidential debate was held at Centre College in Danville, Ky., between Democratic incumbent Joe Biden and Republican hopeful Paul Ryan. The two went head to head on foreign and domestic policy issues, and when the debate was over, the left and right-wing media were announcing who they thought was the winner of the night.

Some argued Ryan won by maintaining a “cool and composed” demeanor, others argued Biden won because of his relentlessness and defensiveness.

I argue Biden’s teeth won because they had the most exposure of the night.

However, the real issue with the debate has less to do with who the winner was and more to do with the meaning behind what was said by each participant.

During the last half hour of the debate, moderator Martha Raddatz asked a very important question about how each nominee’s faith affected their personal views on the topic of abortion. Each candidate played it safe, sticking to the beliefs of their respective parties, but still, clear distinctions were made – distinctions not only on abortion, but how religion plays a role in their governing (spoiler: it shouldn’t).

Ryan was first to answer. He cited three reasons for his pro-life stance: his Catholic faith, reason and science. After telling a heartfelt yet slightly unsettling story of how his daughter looked like a bean in his wife’s uterus at seven weeks, he said that a Romney administration would oppose abortion with exceptions for cases of rape, incest and the life of the mother. He then went on to juice up his party’s stance that the current administration’s policies are infringing upon Catholic charities, churches and hospitals by demanding that they provide contraception even though it is against their religious liberties.

Here’s where I take issue. He claimed the current Democratic administration is infringing upon Catholic doctrine, yet he wants to use his religious beliefs to make abortion illegal and impose upon a woman’s right to decide what she should do with her body. I’m not sure if Ryan is aware, but Catholicism is not the only religion practiced in the United States and, oh yes, women live here, too. So, in conclusion, either he’s being hypocritical, or women’s rights are being left on the back-burner.

He made his voice even clearer when asked by Raddatz if those who believe abortion should remain legal be “worried” if a Romney/Ryan ticket is elected. He responded by saying that the Romney administration does not think “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.” For those of you that can’t see through the political rhetoric, it means the Romney administration would overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court case that makes abortion legal.


Biden was second to answer, and his formerly animated, zany demeanor rapidly changed to something more appropriate for a funeral or maybe a discussion of dropping bombs on innocent foreigners. In very simple terms, he stated that even though he is a “practicing Catholic” and has been his whole life, he will not impose his religious beliefs onto the American people. Keeping in mind the Democratic Party’s platform on abortion, this is a safe answer at best.

Though Ryan and Biden both agree with the Catholic doctrine that “life begins at conception,” Biden said he refuses to enforce that belief onto people who may not share it. As evidenced by the current policies of the Obama administration and his expression of concern during the debate at how close Roe v. Wade is to being overturned, it is Biden’s belief that Roe v. Wade should stand as it is, stating that women’s decisions about their bodies should be left between “them and their doctor.”

Though it’s confusing to me that abortion is even being discussed as a U.S. domestic policy issue, the participants’ answers reveal more than just their singular view on the subject. They reflect their opinions on women’s rights and in an even more broad sense, tell us how each candidate views the relationship between church and state.

For Ryan, his personal beliefs affect every aspect of his life; he flat out stated during the debate that he doesn’t see “how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith.” But it shouldn’t be a matter of how, because allowing religion to guide judgment of policies that affect the entire population is treading dangerous water in a country so many like to call “the melting pot.”

If a person vying for political power (or not) wants total religious freedom, whether he or she is a Democrat or Republican, the only simple and logical solution should be a government led by politicians who aren’t legislating under the influence of religion.

Jillian Correira is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected].

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