October 11, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – Vice President Joe Biden and Congressman Paul Ryan went head-to-head on the issue of abortion during tonight’s vice presidential debate - the first and only of the 2012 election season, and the first VP debate in U.S. history to feature two Catholics - giving very different answers.

An hour and twenty minutes into a debate that focused primarily on the economy and foreign policy in the Middle East, moderator Martha Raddatz asked the pair to explain how their Catholic faith has influenced their views on abortion.

“I believe life begins at conception,” said Ryan, the first to speak, who explained that while his faith is important to his pro-life views, “reason and science” have also played a part.

The Congressman described seeing his first born child, Liza, on an ultrasound screen ten years ago, before adding that he feels abortion is a “difficult” issue, and that he “respects” people with different positions.

“But,” he continued, “the policy of a Romney administration will be to oppose abortion with the exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.”

Ryan also slammed Biden for the Obama administration’s HHS mandate, which requires all employers, including religious employers, to provide health insurance that pays for contraception, sterilization, and abortifacient drugs.

“Our churches should not have to sue the federal government to maintain their religious liberties,” said Ryan.

The Republican candidate also pointed out that that the Democratic Party recently changed its platform to support abortion on demand with taxpayer funding, adding that the Obama administration is already providing such funding for abortion in Obamacare and foreign aid.

Ryan also took Biden to task for a controversial statement he made during a visit to China last year, in which the vice president assured his Chinese listeners that he wouldn’t “second guess” their country’s brutal one child policy, under which forced abortions and sterilizations are routine.

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Vice President Biden responded, arguing that while in his “personal life” he accepts the Catholic Church’s teaching that life begins at conception, “I refuse to impose it on equally devout Christians, and Muslims and and Jews…I just refuse to do that, unlike my friend here.”

“I do not believe that we have a right to tell other people, women that they cannot control their body. It’s a decision between them and their doctor in my view, and the Supreme Court,” he said.

On the issue of the HHS mandate and its attack on religious liberty, Biden simply flat-out denied that the mandate would force Catholic institutions to pay for contraception.

No Catholic institution “has to either refer for contraception, none has to pay for contraception, none has to be a vehicle to get contraception in any insurance policy they provide, that is a fact,” he declared in a remark that drew a strong rebuke from one of the country’s top pro-life organizations.

“Vice President Biden grossly misled the viewers and brushed over legitimate objections by people of all faiths to this administration’s unprecedented assault on religious organizations and individuals,” said Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser in a statement issued immediately following the debate. “The HHS preventative services mandate forces Americans of faith and conscience to violate their beliefs and be directly responsible for paying for insurance programs which cover abortion-inducing drugs. Coverage for such drugs is not preventative women’s healthcare and the vice president’s response tonight demonstrated a shocking disregard for our first freedom.”

Biden also attacked Ryan for past statements supporting the right to life of the unborn in all cases, including rape and incest, while suggesting that Ryan had flip-flopped. “I guess he accepts Gov. Romney’s position now, because in the past he’s argued that there’s rape and forcible rape, in the case of rape and incest it would still be a crime to engage in abortion. I just fundamentally disagree with my friend.”

The answers provided no great surprises on either count, given Biden’s lengthy history of public support for abortion, and Ryan’s equally solid reputation for standing by his pro-life values.

Nancy Keenan of NARAL Pro-Choice America immediately issued a statement following the debate condemning Ryan’s pro-life views. “Let me be clear: The Romney-Ryan ticket is extremely dangerous to women’s health and Americans should be very concerned about the future of women’s health and rights if Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan win on November 6,” said Keenan.

Romney’s selection of Ryan has helped boost Romney’s standing with his party’s social conservatives, with numerous pro-life groups applauding the choice.

Over 14 years in Washington, Ryan earned a 100 percent pro-life voting record with the National Right to Life Committee. He voted to affirm that life begins at conception, to grant the unborn 14th Amendment status, to ban partial birth abortion, to end federal funding of Planned Parenthood, and to bar abortion coverage from federal health care plans.

In 2010, he vowed, “I’m never going to not vote pro-life.”