Mike Pence and Tim Kaine Said Abortion Is a Moral Issue — and That's a Huge Problem
Until the last minutes of Tuesday night's vice presidential debate, it seemed we weren't going to hear about women's issues from either the candidates or moderator Elaine Quijano. When Senator Tim Kaine and Governor Mike Pence began discussing faith, however, the controversial topic of abortion entered the conversation. Watching two men weigh the moral implications of what a woman chooses to do with her body is distressing for a number of reasons, but it's even more concerning when abortion is framed as a virtuous issue rather than a women's health issue.
The discussion started when Quijano asked the candidates for a time when they struggled to balance their personal faith and a public policy position. Kaine said he had trouble overseeing executions since he is morally opposed to capital punishment. Pence acknowledged Kaine's difficulty and flipped the script to talk about abortion. "I sought to stand with great compassion for the sanctity of life," he said of his position to fight abortion as governor of Indiana.
It's concerning when abortion is framed as a moral issue rather than a women's health issue.
There's no doubt that for many people religion plays a major part in how they view abortions. But abortions are fundamentally a women's health issue. Dr. Dalia Brahmi, a family doctor who specializes in abortions and contraceptives, spoke to POPSUGAR for an article about abortion restrictions across the country and said, "Women will always need abortions. We need to decide as a society if we care and respect them enough to promote their health and safety and offer basic care."
People like Pence are entitled to disapprove of abortions because of their faith, but it becomes problematic when they want to impose their beliefs on women. Pence's comments during the debate illustrate an attempt to possess such authority. "It all, for me, begins with cherishing the dignity, the worth, the value, of every human life," he said. Not only has Pence gone out of his way to prohibit abortion as governor of Indiana, but he even tried to enforce a law — which he signed but which was overturned by a federal judge — that required women who miscarry or have abortions to hold funeral services for their unborn fetus.
Pence also cut funds to Planned Parenthood in his state (and tried to push the rest of the country to do the same), which forced several clinics to close, meaning thousands of women do not have access to health resources. When one person's faith takes precedence over thousands of women's bodies, that is troubling. Perhaps even more disturbing are his running mate Donald Trump's comments about women who receive abortions. When asked by MSNBC's Chris Matthews if women who have the procedure should be punished, Trump answered,"There has to be some form of punishment."
Kaine brought this up during the debate. "Governor, why don't you trust women to make this choice for themselves? We can encourage people to support life. Of course we can," he said. "But why don't you trust women? Why doesn't Donald Trump trust women to make this choice for themselves?"
"Why doesn't Donald Trump trust women to make this choice for themselves?"
Kaine — who, like Pence, is Catholic — supports Hillary Clinton's prochoice platform. His question to Pence captures the idea that women can decide if they want an abortion and they can decide if they don't want an abortion — it's their personal decision. In the past, however, Kaine has struggled with abortion because of his faith. Kaine also diverges from Clinton's support of the Hyde Amendment, which provides federal funds for abortions when the mother is in danger or if the child is a product of rape or incest.
Kaine said during the debate that abortion was a "fundamental issue of morality." Even though he supports Roe vs. Wade, Kaine's comments are concerning because they once again perpetuate the idea that abortion is a moral issue, not a health issue. The conflation of moral sanctity and health has allowed lawmakers to possess a remarkable amount of authority over the female body. Would it not be odd if a politician suddenly drafted a bill that prohibited prostate exams because they deemed it immoral?
What's also concerning is that women are often absent from these abortion conversations because they are scantily represented in politics and leadership positions. If more women were encouraged and empowered to enter politics, we would have our voices heard in this argument. Until then, and until abortion is perceived as a health issue rather than a moral dilemma, it will continue to be discussed, ligated, and employed as an instrument of control.