CHENEY/LIEBERMAN: Debate Mifepristone, Abortion
Vice-presidential candidates Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) and former Defense Secretary Dick Cheney (R) did not discuss Medicare prescription drug plans when they debated last night in Danville, Ky. last night, but they did mirror their running mates' opinions on a number of abortion-related issues, including mifepristone and "partial-birth" abortion. Moderator Bernard Shaw of CNN introduced the topic of abortion early in the debate, asking Cheney if he would support the effort of House Republicans who want legislation to restrict the distribution of RU-486. While not indicating his stance on the recent Republican proposal, Cheney indicated that like his running mate Texas Gov. George W. Bush (R), he did not intend to reverse the FDA decision because it was made based on the "efficacy of the drug, not the question of whether or not we supported abortion." However, Cheney added that he and Bush are looking to decrease the number of abortions in America, and acknowledged that "[e]ven Bill Clinton, who's been a supporter of abortion rights, has advocated reducing abortion to make it as rare as possible." To that end, Cheney said he and Bush are "thinking of such things as promoting adoption as an alternative, encouraging parental notification" and banning "the horrific practice of partial-birth abortion." Cheney added that "Congress has twice passed, by overwhelming margins," a bipartisan-supported ban on partial-birth abortion. Cheney further noted that Clinton and Gore have vetoed the measure twice, adding, "We would hope that eventually they would recognize that that's not a good position for them to be in." Lieberman responded that the "significant difference" between the Gore team and their Republican opponents "is that Al Gore and I respect and will protect a women's right to choose. And our opponents will not. We know that [abortion] is a difficult personal, moral, medical issue, but that is exactly why it ought to be left under our law to a woman, her doctor and her God." Lieberman said he would not support legislation to reverse the FDA's decision on RU-486, "a decision that we ought to let stand because it was made by experts." Lieberman added that the two presidential tickets agree that "the government ought to do everything it can to reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies, and therefore the number of abortions." He mentioned that abortions have decreased in America over the past eight years and that the number of teenage pregnancies has declined by 20% during the same time period. Lieberman attributed this "good news" to "good programs out there that Al Gore and I will continue to support, such as family planning and programs that encourage abstinence." Finally, Lieberman addressed the topic of partial-birth abortion, saying that he supported a Senate bill that would have "prohibited late-term abortions except in cases where the health or life of the mother was involved," but did not support the "so-called partial-birth abortion bill" because it would have "prohibited abortion, that form of abortion, at any stage of the pregnancy, regardless of the effect on the health and life of the woman, and that's unacceptable" (Debate transcript, New York Times, 10/6).
No Clear Winner
An informal panel of judges, comprised of members of the Associated Press, joined by the president of Wyndmoor, Pa.-based LaSalle College High School and an executive council member of the National Forensics League, which sponsors debate tournaments, were split on who emerged victorious from last night's vice presidential debate. The Associated Press panel, judging on six "formal debate criteria," including reasoning, evidence, organization, refutation, cross examination and presentation, awarded Lieberman with 130 points and Cheney with 122 points out of a possible 150. Harvard University debate coach Dallas Perkins said, "This is the best debate in years with real clash on a number of good arguments, and very revealing of their personalities." Jean Naegelin, charter member of the Texas Forensics Association, noted, "They truly listened to each other with no interruptions." Alan Timmons, forensics director at the Greenhill School in Dallas, disagreed, saying that both candidates "were too measured and reserved in their delivery," and therefore did not show "passion for issues that many Americans feel very passionate about," including RU-486 and equal pay for women (Feinsilber, Associated Press, 10/6).