I was gritting my teeth waiting for a question, any question, to be asked about reproductive health, contraception, insurance coverage for women’s health, or sexual assault at last night’s debate. So I was glad that moderator Martha Raddatz asked about abortion. But I was less than thrilled with how she phrased the question, asking Vice President Biden and Rep. Paul Ryan “I would like to ask you both to tell me what role your religion has played in your own personal views on abortion. Please talk about how you came to that decision. Talk about how your religion played a part in that. And, please, this is such an emotional issue for so many people in this country, please talk personally about this, if you could.” As Irin Carmon pointed out at Salon, it was a framing that put the issue on turf where religious conservatives like to have it, that posited the beliefs of two men, neither of whom will ever have to face the prospect of themselves carrying an unwanted pregnancy to term, was more important than the experiences of women, and that personalized a debate with important policy implications. So here are five questions Raddatz could asked to get, meaningfully, at any of the factors her question excluded:
1. Have either of you had a personal experience with a woman who was deciding whether or not to end a pregnancy? If so, what did you learn from her decision-making process? And how has that experience affected your views about what policy changes are necessary to ensure safe access to medical care for women and support for women who choose to raise children they might not have otherwise carried to term?
2. If you believe abortion should be illegal except in cases of rape, incest, or where the life or health of the mother is at risk, how would you enforce a ban on abortions performed for other reasons? What sentences would doctors who performed abortions or women who solicited them have to serve if found guilty of violating the ban? How would you fund enforcement mechanisms?
3. Congressman Ryan, would you support comprehensive sex education and free access to barrier contraceptives as a means to lower the rate of unplanned pregnancies and abortions that result from those pregnancies? What incentive programs do you think it would be appropriate for state or non-state actors to offer women to encourage them to carry even unwanted pregnancies to term? What support programs would you provide that don’t exist now or which existing programs would you enhance or expand to aid women who carry through pregnancies they might otherwise have terminated?4. If you believe that abortion should be legal in cases of rape, what policy changes would you make to provide prompt, safe access to abortion to members of the military who have been victims of rape by fellow soldiers or within the chain of command, but have difficulty obtaining abortions due to variations in the laws in the countries where they are stationed, and because their health insurance does not provide coverage for abortions?
5. Vice President Biden, you’ve said that you “support reasonable judicial bypass requirements in parental notification provisions.” Do you think present notification and consent policies are reasonable, and if not, how should they be changed and standardized? Congressman Ryan, if abortion should be legal in cases of incest, should abortions performed under those circumstances require parental consent or notification? If so, how would you structure those notification or consent processes? And given a number of conservatives have suggested that women will falsely claim to be the victims of sexual assault to obtain abortions, what standards would you require women meet to obtain abortions under these exemptions?