Paul Ryan and Joe Biden offered sharply different opinions on abortion and religious freedom Thursday night in response to a question about their Catholic faith. Ryan said that while his Catholicism inspires him to "take care of the vulnerable," his opposition to abortion is based on science, reason, and an ultrasound image he saw of his unborn daughter.
"Our little baby was in the shape of a bean, and to this day we have nicknamed our first born child, Liza, 'Bean,'" he said. "Now, I believe that life begins at conception ... those are the reasons why I'm pro-life. Now, I understand this is a difficult of issue, and I respect people who don't agree with me on this, but the policy of a Romney administration will be to oppose abortion with the exceptions for rape, incest and life of the mother."
Ryan accused Democrats of supporting abortion "without restriction and with taxpayer funding" -- a common talking point among social conservatives that is not true. The Hyde amendment, which has been public policy for three decades, prevents taxpayer funds from being used to pay for abortions in the U.S. and abroad.
Biden said that while he personally agrees with the Catholic teaching that life begins at conception, he refuses to impose that view on women and people with different beliefs. "I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people that, women, that they can't control their body," he said. "It's a decision between them and their doctor, in my view, and the Supreme Court. I'm not going to interfere with that."
Biden pointed out that before becoming Mitt Romney's running mate, Ryan opposed abortion in cases of rape and incest and supported a bill to redefine rape as it related to the insurance coverage of abortion.
"I guess he accepts Governor Romney's position now, because in the past he has argued that there was -- there's rape and forcible rape. He's argued that in the case of rape or incest ... it would be a crime to engage in having an abortion. I just fundamentally disagree with my friend."
Ryan also went after the Obama administration for "infringing upon" the freedom of religion by requiring most employers and insurers to cover contraception in their plans. "Our church should not have to sue our federal government to maintain religious liberties," he said.
Biden, who pushed for a broader religious exemption when Obama first announced the contraception mandate, responded by pointing out that the administration's accommodation excuses faith-based employers from having to pay for contraception if they morally oppose.
"Let me make it absolutely clear," he said. "No religious institution, Catholic or otherwise -- including Catholic social
services, Georgetown Hospital, Mercy, 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."