Sisterhood Blog

Framing Abortion as a Religious Question

By Sarah Seltzer

  • Print
  • Share Share
Getty Images

After an entire first Presidential debate that ignored women’s issues, and a second debate that ignored them until the very last minute, election-watchers concerned about the future of our uteri were getting quite antsy. No mention up to that point of LGBT issues, reproductive rights, equal pay for equal work, childcare, or even education.

And then, at long last, the question came up: How does your shared Catholic religion inform your feeling on abortion?

The phenomenal, trailblazing job of moderating that Martha Raddatz had done up until that point came to a shuddering halt. The religious framing of the question bugged a lot of viewers who expressed their frustration last night and today.

Robin Marty wrote:

It frames a woman’s choices as something on which the church is allowed to be the final authority. In essence, the moderator is saying, “Will you let the leaders of your faith dictate what rights women have or will you buck your bishops and let women have the same right to control their bodies that men are allowed?”

The blogger Atrios wrote with typical acerbicness: “Yes abortion made an appearance, but the question wasn’t about abortion, it was about how Joe Biden could defy his church.”

Indeed, by starting with the church instead of the women affected by these laws, the question reinforced problematic views on abortion. And this mistaken framing was reflected by the nature of the answers: Even though the tone up to that point had been lively, even laughter-filled, when the discussion touched on such life-and-death issues as war, security, and the future of the American middle class, the tone immediately became dead quiet and sober after Raddatz said the A-word. Abortion. The most serious thing in the entire world.

But Biden’s fairly spot-on answer deflected the problematic question by acknowledging his church’s declaration that life begins at conception, yet invoking freedom of religion and giving a shout-out to those with different beliefs as he had:

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 — 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.

Thanks for the shout-out to Jewish beliefs, Joe, which are much more open-ended on abortion than Catholic ones and always seem to be forgotten when the whole religion issue come sup.

Liberal Catholic writer Ed Kilgore critiques the question but explains how the candidates’ answers managed to make their very divergent approached quite clear, including Ryan’s personally extreme beliefs.

Raddatz’ question implicitly called Biden down to the diocesan headquarters for a chewing-out. Yet he managed to come across much better on this question than Ryan, certainly to non-Catholics who appreciated his refusal to impose his views on them, and probably to Catholics who share his refusal to follow the bishops into a kulturkampf on abortion. And Ryan’s teeth-clenched admission that he was submitting to Mitt Romney’s will in accepting the legality of abortions in cases of rape and incest was very telling to all viewers, especially those who didn’t know he is a genuine Todd Akin ultra on everything to do with reproductive rights issues.

Indeed, Ryan refused to say he believed in abortion in cases of rape, incest, or the life of the mother, instead saying those were Romney campaign policies. He has previously gone on the record saying he opposes abortion in all instances.

You’ll also note that Ryan, while referring lovingly to his unborn embryo as a “bean” didn’t really refer to women, and neither did Raddatz. By uttering the “w” word that describes about half of the population, Biden won the issue. Let’s hope the next debate spends more than one question on social issues, including the health and financial concerns of women and indeed, people of all family makeups, sexual orientation and gender identities.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: paul ryan, Women's Rights, joe biden, Martha Raddatz, Vice Presidential Debate, Election, Debate, Abortion, the Jewish Vote 2 2012

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • Many #Israelis can't make it to bomb shelters in time. One of them is Amos Oz.
  • According to Israeli professor Mordechai Kedar, “the only thing that can deter terrorists, like those who kidnapped the children and killed them, is the knowledge that their sister or their mother will be raped."
  • Why does ultra-Orthodox group Agudath Israel of America receive its largest donation from the majority owners of Walmart? Find out here: http://jd.fo/q4XfI
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.