Why Does Abortion Have to Be a Personal Question for Men?

I have a nasty head cold, and it’s sort of surprising that I was even able to stay up to watch the vice-presidential debate, so I’ll just have a couple of quick takeaways here.

Because both candidates are Catholic, it was widely expected they’d be asked questions relating to abortion and the contraception mandate. On the latter, Paul Ryan predictably portrayed it as an “assault on religious liberty” and Joe Biden pointed out that no Catholic institution is actually being required to provide, refer for, or pay for contraception. It wasn’t the most elaborate discussion of the constitutional questions there, but it was pretty standard fare.

Moderator Martha Raddatz, who, incidentally, was otherwise really, really good, asked both candidates to discuss their views, as Catholics, on abortion from a “personal” perspective. It was intended for some tension, of course, given their opposing political views. And Ryan was prepared to talk about Bean. Everyone who has had a child since the invention of the ultrasound has seen their own Bean. Does that make Ryan’s public policy position on abortion more legitimate than someone who rejoices over their own Bean and still thinks abortion should be legal?

Biden pointed out that he personally agrees with the Church on abortion but doesn’t want to impose his religious beliefs on others. Which is, of course, the heart of the answer to both the abortion and contraception questions. Raddatz gave both men the chance to discuss their faith. Ryan pointed out that faith informs everything he does; Biden took pains to highlight that as important as his faith is to him, he wouldn’t use it to force others to adhere to his beliefs. And as it happens, most Catholic voters don’t really rate abortion and contraception at the top of their list of concerns.

As the other Sarah discussed earlier today, Catholic doctrine has a lot to say about issues unrelated to reproductive matters. Biden took a probably little noticed dig at Ryan when he pointed out that the Republican’s economic policy proposals are at odds with Catholic social justice teaching. Raddatz could have asked about how quite a number of Catholic theologians have something to say about that. Of course it seems preposterous that we would mix up religious doctrine with economic policy, doesn’t it? But somehow men must opine about their personal religious beliefs about women’s bodies.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email