The topic of abortion made an appearance at the vice presidential debate last night, as both candidates discussed the role of faith in their lives, and how it aligns with their political views.
Democratic candidate Sen. Tim Kaine (Va.) insisted he was personally opposed to abortion but would not, as a public official, infringe upon a woman’s choice to have an abortion.
“We support Roe v. Wade. We support the constitutional right of American women to consult their own conscience” and “make their own decision about pregnancy,” he said.
People of faith should be “convincing each other, dialoguing with each other about important moral issues of the day,” he added, “but on fundamental issues of morality, we should let women make their own decisions.”
His words met harsh criticism from Republican Mike Pence, governor of Indiana, who reiterated his support for the pro-life cause and noted that his state has significantly increased its adoption rate in recent years.
The topic was raised toward the end of the Oct. 4 vice presidential debate.
“You have both been open about the role that faith has played in your lives. Can you discuss, in detail, a time when you struggled to balance your faith and a public policy position?” moderator Elaine Quijano of CBS News asked both candidates.
Kaine, a baptized Catholic who has attended St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish in the diocese of Richmond, Va., made it clear that he tries to follow Church teaching in his personal life but is careful not to let that same teaching determine his decisions as a public servant.
“I try to practice my religion in a very devout way and follow the teachings of my church in my own personal life,” he said at Tuesday’s debate. However, he added, “I think it is really, really important that those of us who have deep faith lives don’t feel like we can just substitute our views for everybody else in society regardless of their views.”
“It is not the role of the public servant to mandate that [faith] for everybody else,” he insisted.
Kaine has openly conflicted with Church teaching on both abortion and same-sex marriage while on the campaign trail, drawing criticism from several Catholic bishops for doing so.
However, he gave the example of his inner conflict on the death penalty as the governor of Virginia, because he personally opposed its use but allowed for it as governor because it was the law of the state.
On the death penalty, the Catechism of the Catholic Church says, “Assuming that the guilty party’s identity and responsibility have been fully determined, the traditional teaching of the Church does not exclude recourse to the death penalty, if this is the only possible way of effectively defending human lives against the unjust aggressor.”
“If, however, non-lethal means are sufficient to defend and protect people’s safety from the aggressor, authority will limit itself to such means, as these are more in keeping with the concrete conditions of the common good and more in conformity to the dignity of the human person,” it adds, saying that because of advances in modern security, “the cases in which the execution of the offender is an absolute necessity ‘are very rare, if not practically nonexistent’.”
Kaine presided over the execution of 11 people as governor of Virginia. “I had to grapple with that,” he explained, saying that as governor he had to operate by the laws of the state.
“It was very, very difficult to allow executions to go forward, but in every circumstance here I didn’t feel like there was a case for clemency, I told Virginia voters I would uphold the law, and I did,” he said.
Pence, meanwhile, who was raised Catholic, answered that “my Christian faith became real for me when I made a personal decision for Christ when I was a Freshman in college. And I’ve tried to live that out, however imperfectly, every day of my life ever since.”
For his part, Pence left out his own support of the death penalty, as well as his public conflict last year with Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis when Catholic Charities was set to resettle a Syrian refugee family that had been waiting in line for two years.
Pence had tried to halt resettlement of Syrian refugees in his state until the federal government gave sufficient confirmation that the resettlement program was secure. Tobin went ahead and resettled the family against Pence’s wishes. Pence met with the archbishop and afterwards said he “respectfully disagreed” with the resettlement.
Pence referred to himself as an “Evangelical-Catholic” in a 1994 interview, began attending an Evangelical megachurch with his family, and now says he is a “Christian.” Pence emphasized that his faith hinges upon upholding the “sanctity of life.”
“It all for me begins with cherishing the dignity, the worth, the value of every human life,” Pence said on the debate stage. “For me the sanctity of life proceeds out of the belief that ancient principle that where God says before you were formed in the womb I knew you,” he stated.
And then Pence took Kaine to task for his – and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s – support for abortion. Kaine has earned a 100 percent rating by the abortion rights group NARAL in his time in the Senate.
“The very idea that a child that is almost born into the world could still have their life taken from them is just anathema to me. And I can’t conscience about a party that supports that,” Pence said.
Pence also noted Hillary Clinton’s support of partial-birth abortion, and defended the Hyde Amendment, a decades-old provision with bipartisan support that prohibits the taxpayer funding of elective abortion. The Democratic Party platform and Hillary Clinton have called for the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, but Kaine after several different answers said he supported it, back in July.
Kaine reiterated his support for a woman’s right to “consult their own conscience” on abortion.
Pence countered that “we can create a culture of life,” invoking Mother Teresa’s famous address to the National Prayer Breakfast in 1994 where she called abortion “the greatest destroyer of peace today…because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of the innocent child.”
“As Mother Teresa said at that famous National Prayer Breakfast, let’s welcome the children into our world. There are so many families around the country who can’t have children,” Pence said.
“Because a society can be judged by how it deals with its most vulnerable, the aged, the infirm, the disabled, and the unborn.”