Abortion Comes Up at Tim Kaine, Mike Pence Vice-Presidential Debate

Senator Tim Kaine, left, and Gov. Mike Pence threw each other on the defensive at the vice-presidential debate in Farmville, Va., on Tuesday. (Credit: Doug Mills/The New York Times)
Senator Tim Kaine, left, and Gov. Mike Pence threw each other on the defensive at the vice-presidential debate in Farmville, Va., on Tuesday. (Credit: Doug Mills/The New York Times)

The issue finally came up at the vice-presidential debate on Tuesday night, showing why religion and conscience are important in this election.

In a debate filled with yelling and interruptions, it was the moment when Tim Kaine and Mike Pence finally got quiet: They were talking about their struggles with faith. Kaine spoke about having to preside over executions while he was governor of Virginia, even though he’s morally opposed to the death penalty. Pence, however, turned the question around and brought up an issue no moderator has dared to ask about: abortion.

“For me … the sanctity of life proceeds out of a belief in that ancient principle of God,” Pence said. “What I cannot understand is Hillary Clinton—how she can support a process like partial-birth abortion.” He recognized that Kaine “holds pro-life views,” but “I cannot conscience a party that supports that.”

This was an important moment in the debate, because it highlighted vulnerabilities on this issue within both parties. Pence managed to sound empathetic to Kaine while pointing out the differences between the Democratic vice-presidential nominee and his candidate. He criticized Clinton on an issue that’s important to a lot of conservatives, including some of those who have declared themselves Never Trumpers over his weakness on issues exactly like this. But the way he handled the question was also a reminder of just how badly Trump has handled conversations about abortion in the past.

Both Clinton and Kaine tend to avoid detailed discussions of abortion and faith. As Kaine pointed out, Clinton comes from a Methodist background—a church that tentatively accepts abortion, but only in certain, rare cases. Kaine is a Catholic who has said he is personally opposed to abortion, as Pence pointed out. While it’s not quite accurate to say that Clinton supports partial-birth abortion—“I have been on record in favor of a late pregnancy regulation that would have exceptions for the life and health of the mother,” shesaid in March—over the years, she has shifted her language and policy positions to support the procedure. This year, she became the first Democratic nominee to run on a ticket that proposes a repeal of the Hyde Amendment—a budget provision that bans the use of federal funds to pay for most abortions.

As Pence pointed out, Kaine is publicly opposed to repealing the Hyde Amendment. He has said he fully supports Clinton’s platform, but as he said during the debate on Tuesday night, he sees abortion as a “fundamental issues of morality.” The Clinton/Kaine ticket is well-designed to appeal to pro-choice supporters, including the women voters who will be crucial for bringing them victory in November. But their split on Hyde, and their religious backgrounds, suggests they see abortion as clear-cut public-policy issue that’s also a challenging moral question.

This was the deeper significance of the exchange, which illustrated how much faith, and notions of morality, underpin American politics.

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SOURCE: The Atlantic
Emma Green

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