Tim Kaine and Mike Pence sparred about abortion as a matter of faith at Tuesday's vice presidential debate.
Reproductive rights supporters have been pressing debate moderators throughout this election cycle to ask questions about abortion – a major issue right now in the United States, given rolled back access across the country, and the looming threat against Roe v. Wade if more conservative justices are appointed to the Supreme Court. But moderator Elaine Quijano did not ask about abortion specifically Tuesday; rather, she asked the vice presidential contenders to speak about "a time when you struggled to balance your personal faith and a public policy position."
Kaine, a devout Catholic, first discussed his personal stance against the death penalty, before Pence, an evangelical Christian, steered the conversation toward abortion. "From my first time in public life, I've sought to stand with great compassion for the sanctity of life," said the Indiana governor, who is one of the most extreme anti-abortion politicians in the country, having signed radical anti-abortion laws in his state and helped lead the fight against Planned Parenthood. Pence then knocked the Clinton campaign for allegedly supporting "partial-birth abortions," a deeply misleading and non-medical term that has nonetheless long been a focus of the anti-abortion movement, and for pushing to overturn the Hyde Amendment, which bans the use of federal funds to pay for abortions in most cases, making the procedure harder to obtain for low-income women.
"This is a fundamental question," countered Kaine, who has discussed being personally opposed to abortion but supporting others' right to choose. "Hillary and I are both people out of religious backgrounds. ... But it is not the role of the public servant to mandate that for everyone else."
"We support the constitutional right of American women to consult their own conscience, their own ... partner, their own minister, but then make their own decision," he said. "We trust American women to do that. And we don't think that women should be punished, as Donald Trump said, for making the decision to have an abortion."
Though Pence denied Tuesday evening that a Trump administration would support punishment for women who get abortions, Trump has indeed said he thinks there should be "some form of punishment" for such women. Pressed on why Trump would say that, Pence said, "Well look, he's not a polished politician" like Clinton.
Kaine noted that when Trump says things like this – and like his proposed Muslim ban, and his assertion that Mexican immigrants are rapists – "he is showing you who he is."