Despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade over four decades ago, abortion remains one of the most hotly-discussed and polarized issues in politics. So, naturally, it came up during the Vice-Presidential debate between Tim Kaine and Mike Pence on October 4, 2016.
The topic came about as moderator Elaine Quijano asked the candidates about the intersections of their faiths and government positions.
Kaine described his Catholic upbringing and Jesuit education, saying he stays devout to his faith in his personal life, but doesn’t believe that he, as a politician, can allow “that the doctrines of any one religion should be mandated for everyone.”
Pence too described his religious devotion and even went so far as to say he had a deep respect for Tim Kaine’s “sincere faith.”
If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it was.
Pence then went into a long, passionate monologue about not only why he doesn’t support abortion, but why Clinton and Kaine’s stances on abortion are an “anathema” to him.
“I would tell you that for me the sanctity of life proceeds out of the belief that -- that ancient principle that -- where God says before you were formed in the womb, I knew you, and so for my first time in public life, I sought to stand with great compassion for the sanctity of life. [...] 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,” he said.
Kaine immediately fired back, explaining why he believes he must keep his personal beliefs separate from his work as a policy maker.
“We [Clinton and Kaine] support Roe v. Wade,” he said. “We support the constitutional right of American women to consult their own conscience, their own supportive partner, their own minister, but then make their own decision about pregnancy. [...]the last thing, the very last thing that government should do is have laws that would punish women who make reproductive choices. And that is the fundamental difference between a Clinton-Kaine ticket and a Trump- Pence ticket that wants to punish women who make that choice.”
Pence then attempted to praise Trump for his pro-life beliefs and argue that he and Trump never said they wanted to punish women who got abortions (Trump did in fact say this at an MSNBC town hall in meeting in March). However, Kaine asked Pence a very important question that all Americans should consider:
“Governor, why don't you trust women to make this choice for themselves? We can encourage people to support life. Of course we can. But why don't you trust women? Why doesn't Donald Trump trust women to make this choice for themselves?”
While Kaine is no perfect champion of reproductive rights (he’s flip-flopped on his abortion stance and his position on the Hyde Amendment has been somewhat murky), he does maintain a 100% ranking of support from Planned Parenthood and, as seen in the debate, passionately defends a woman’s right to choose what is best for herself.
Most importantly, Kaine has done something admirable that Pence did not: he admitted that he can still live his Catholic faith while also being pro-choice.
Kaine’s statements are a rarity, even when anywhere from 38 percent to 55 percent of Catholics support pro-choice policies. The fact that he can be so firm in his faith while also strongly supporting a woman’s right to choose should be of utmost importance to Americans. The legality of abortion should not interfere with the religion of our government officials and policy-makers. As Kaine himself argued best, politicians cannot impose their own religious beliefs on all people.
Moreover, the legality of abortion was already decided in 1973 with Roe v. Wade as the Supreme Court made a decision in support of a woman’s right to choose. Tim Kaine wants to protect that right, and he’s proved that he can do so and still practice his Catholic religion.
If that’s not evidence of a strong leader, I’m not sure what is.
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