The XX Factor

Paul Ryan, Unprompted, Makes Contraception an Issue in VP Debate

Paul Ryan does not like mandatory contraception coverage.
Rep. Paul Ryan faces moderator Martha Raddatz in the vice presidential debate

Photograph by Saul Loeb/AFP/GettyImages.

Martha Raddatz specializes in foreign policy, so it’s no surprise that the vice presidential debate tonight focused largely on hot spots abroad, even though that put Paul Ryan at a distinct disadvantage. Still, Raddatz did manage to work in a little time at the end of the debate to ask the perennial abortion question, sadly framing it as a matter of personal ethics instead of what it really is: a matter of legal rights regardless of your personal feelings or religious doctrine.

RADDATZ: I want to move on, and I want to return home for these last few questions. This debate is, indeed, historic. We have two Catholic candidates, first time, on a stage such as this. And I would like to ask you both to tell me what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion.

Please talk about how you came to that decision. Talk about how your religion played a part in that. And, please, this is such an emotional issue for so many people in this country…

RYAN: Sure.

RADDATZ: … please talk personally about this, if you could.

Any question about abortion has the potential to cause some male politician to say something profoundly dumb, which is why it’s always a mildly exciting debate topic. But tonight both candidates were armed and ready with polished, talking point-heavy answers.

Ryan talked about nicknaming his daughter “bean” after seeing what looked like a bean to him on his wife’s early sonogram, and referenced the way his faith guides his views on abortion policy, saying, “I don’t see how a person can separate their public life from their private life or from their faith. Our faith informs us in everything we do.” Biden lowered his voice and gave the expected lip service to how serious this issue is, before concluding, as expected (and welcome), that it’s not right to impose religious dogma about sex and reproduction on women who don’t share those beliefs.

The only remarkable thing about the exchange is that contraception is now such an important target for the anti-choicers that Ryan brought the subject up, even though Raddatz didn’t ask about it, pivoting quickly from abortion to talk about the Catholic Church’s issue with contraception: “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.” As with abortion, Ryan’s religion teaches that contraception is wrong, though, when pressed, he wasn’t as eager to suggest that what is taught in the pews should be enforced by the law. Instead, he spoke of “religious liberty,” by which he means giving the employer the right to deny an employee insurance benefits she has paid for because he thinks Jesus disapproves of sex for pleasure instead of procreation.