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VP Nominees Embody Political Divide Among Catholics; Romney Campaign Refines Abortion Stance

VP Nominees Embody Political Divide Among Catholics; Romney Campaign Refines Abortion Stance

October 15, 2012 — The positions of Vice President Biden and Republican vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) -- both practicing Catholics -- exemplify the divisions among Catholic voters on social issues, Reuters reports (Wisniewski, Reuters, 10/12).

At last week's vice presidential debate, both nominees had a chance to directly address how their faith influences their stance on abortion rights (Goodstein, "The Caucus," New York Times, 10/12). Ryan focused on the church's teaching on "life issues," while Biden emphasized how social justice is embodied in Catholic doctrine, according to NPR's "It's All Politics" (Glinton, "It's All Politics," NPR, 10/15).

Biden also said that while he personally accepts the church's opposition to abortion, he does not believe in making that position a public policy. According to the New York Times' "The Caucus," polls over the years have shown that most U.S. Catholics hold a similar view ("The Caucus," New York Times, 10/12). In a recent Reuters poll, 17.3% of Catholics said abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, compared with 16.6% who said it should be legal in all cases.

In 2008, 54% of the Catholic vote went to President Obama. This election, the Catholic bishops have become more vocal in advocating for the church's positions, such as opposition to the federal contraceptive coverage rules and same-sex marriage. Nearly 98% of Catholic women use contraception, in defiance of church teachings, according to a 2011 study by the Guttmacher Institute (Reuters, 10/12).

Romney Campaign Addresses Abortion Position

A senior adviser for Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney on Sunday said Romney has "consistently" called for overturning Roe v. Wade and will be a "pro-life president" if elected, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports.

During an appearance on CNN's "State of the Union," former Republican National Committee Chair Ed Gillespie continued the Romney campaign's efforts to clarify the candidate's position after he stated last week that he would not pursue abortion-related legislation if elected (Laing, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 10/14).

"The Caucus" notes that abortion has become a "vexing" issue for Romney and Ryan, in part because Ryan implied during the vice presidential debate that the legislative process is the way abortion policies should be changed.

Additionally, Romney has made prior pledges that are similar to his recent statement about abortion legislation. As a candidate for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, Romney said he opposed abortion but would not impose his views on others. He later cited opposition to abortion in vetoing measures involving embryonic stem cell research and emergency contraception (Stolberg, "The Caucus," New York Times, 10/12).

Meanwhile, the positions Ryan is advocating as a member of the Republican ticket differ from his previous stance on abortion issues, according to the Washington Post. During the debate he said a Romney administration would oppose abortion but allow exceptions for rape, incest and a woman's life; however, Ryan has previously opposed abortion rights in all circumstances (Fahrenthold, Washington Post, 10/12).

Advocacy groups on both sides are attempting to capitalize on the candidates' recent attention to abortion issues by launching advertisements aimed at undecided voters. Planned Parenthood Action Fund and the antiabortion-group Susan B. Anthony List have been the most prominent, although PPAF has spent nearly five times more than SBA List on swing-state ads, according to "Healthwatch" (Viebeck, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 10/13).